You don’t have to have seen Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap to enjoy wonderful theatreland-set, whodunnit See How They Run. Nor does it spoil things if you have (you probably still wont guess the ending of the film). Nor do you need a working knowledge of Agatha Christie herself, the peculiar contract that exists around The Mousetrap, 1950s London, Richard Attenborough and other real-life celebrities of the time, or indeed Tom Stoppard’s play The Real Inspector Hound. But part of the beauty of this incredibly meta, zippy, crime caper is that after the credits roll you’re probably going to want to do a bit of googling.
Set in London in the early ’50s, See How They Run sees The Mousetrap celebrating its 100th performance. The cast includes the celebrated Richard Attenborough (perfectly embodied by Harris Dickinson) and his wife Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda), meanwhile obnoxious Hollywood director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody) is visiting the capital city ahead of plans to adapt The Mousetrap into a movie, with screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo) working on the script. Tensions at the party are running high and an altercation occurs, Köpernick retreats to the wardrobe department of the theatre to fetch a change of clothes, but there’s someone waiting for him…
The scene is set for a parlour murder mystery in true Christie style, and the sleuths charged with solving the crime are world-weary Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and young whippersnapper Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). Stoppard is sardonic and cynical (and Rockwell’s London accent doesn’t distract), while Stalker is determined but impulsive. Ronan, who has already shown herself to be one of the most interesting actors of her generation, here proves she has an absolutely brilliant knack for comedy. She gets all the best lines, of course, (check out the trailer for a taste) but she also raises plenty of laughs from some subtle physical comedy. In fact, the whole cast is stellar. Secondary players/suspects/potential victims include Ruth Wilson as theatre impresario Petula Spencer (a nod towards The Mousetrap backer Peter Saunders), Reece Shearsmith as real life producer John Woolf and This Country’s Charlie Cooper as the hapless usher (Tom George, who makes his feature debut with See How They Run, is the director of This Country).
Each of our players has a motive to off the loathsome Köpernick and it’s up to Stoppard and Stalker to solve the crime. Tonally reminiscent of Rian Johnson’s playful Knives Out, this is also a classic and extremely well devised whodunnit, which encourages the audience to spot clues along the way. The guileless Stalker is our eyes and ears and her obsessive note taking encourages the audience to mentally do the same.
The cast is ace but props should absolutely go to Mark Chappell’s wily script. With See How They Run he has ingeniously woven together real theatre history, an absolute reverence for Agatha Christie and her play, a cunning murder mystery that’ll keep you guessing, a fun, cheeky exploration of movie tropes that plays out in a wonderfully satisfying manner, and, yes, almost certainly the closest you’re ever going to get to an actual adaptation of The Mousetrap on screen, including a nod to the highly successful ‘don’t spoil the ending’ marketing of that play. There’s plenty of fascinating historical detail too, including references to the real life Rillington Place murders (John Reginald Christie was arrested in 1953) with the hindsight easter egg that Richard Attenborough would go on to actually play Christie in the 1971 movie 10 Rillington Place. In fact there are easter eggs peppered throughout, sometimes nods at real people and events, others in-world (“he was a real hound, inspector” is just one of the many in jokes you might spot). The direction style itself is also somewhat impish, playing with split screen and flash back and referencing itself (via the mechanism of the know-it-all director and the sensitive screen writer).
Packed with period detail and an obvious love for theatre, London, and the drawing room mystery, See How They Run is an incredibly competent feature debut for George, where all elements of the production: costumes, hair and make-up, set design, soundtrack, lighting, the lot, work perfectly in sync like the slickest of West End shows. This is one of the most joyful films of the year and perfect for a night on the town – well worth it for the price of a cinema ticket.
See How They Run is out now in cinemas in the UK. In the US it opens on Sept. 16.