Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is the longest-running play in the world. First produced in 1952 and celebrating its 70th year, it has been viewed millions of times by theatre-goers but will never be seen on screen until the run ends (a clause in the original contract). The closest we have to see the play on film is in this new comedy-thriller, See How They Run. A murder-mystery set behind the scenes of the West End smash. While the film never gives away too much of the play, it is undoubtedly a delightful homage to the style of Christie’s work.
Disgruntled Inspector Stoppard has been put on the case of a murdered American film director, Leo Kopernick, an obnoxious man who was about to make a film version of the play, The Mousetrap. Along with his new partner, the overly-exuberant Constable Stalker, the pair slowly shift through the possible suspects, from film producer John Woolf, to screenwriter Melvyn Cocker-Norris, to the star of the play, Richard Attenborough. While Stoppard’s laid-back approach and Stalker’s excitable copper are an unlikely pair, they have to work closely to find the murderer before another victim falls.
Using the play as a backdrop, this unexpected comedy joyfully rifts off the creaks of Christie’s classic. But, as Kopernick explains at the beginning, it’s always the most obnoxious character who dies first and then dies. Brimming with self-reference and never taking itself seriously, this could have fallen flat on its face. Yet director Tom George and writer Mark Chappell keep the pace swift and the humour fast and loose. Each suspect has a motive for murder, whether changing the film script to the knowledge of affairs or trying to move in on another man’s wife. These are the things that Christie would have relished.
Director Tom George also nods his hat to various other filmmakers, from Edgar Wright to Wes Anderson, with a delightful Grand Budapest Hotel-style sequence in which Stoppard has a dream and is served drinks by the dead director. It also mocks itself. At one point, writer Cocker-Norris fumes about Kopernick’s direction for the Mousetrap while explaining an argument over the script, saying he hated flashbacks during a flashback and then dismissing a sign saying “three weeks later”, which appears right afterwards.
The film also has a terrific cast to play with. Ruth Wilson, as producer Petula Spencer, gets to overact deliciously. At the same time, David Oylowo is hilarious as writer Cocker-Norris, desperately trying to cover up that he has a live-in boyfriend. Harris Dickenson is perfect as Richard Attenborough, capturing the star’s voice perfectly.
Yet it is the unlikely double act of Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan that really sparkle. Rockwell, with a near-perfect English accent, is terrific as Stoppard, a man with a drinking problem, who cynically moves through the film with no urgency to get to the bottom of the crime, being pushed along by Ronan’s brilliant Stalker, a woman who jumps to conclusions and who writes down everything. Ronan steals the film from everyone with a pitch-perfect comic performance that now proves she can turn her hand to everything. It’s one of those pairing that you could watch again and again.
See How They Run may not be on everyone’s radar, but it should be. At a time when we need light entertainment, this fits the bill exceptionally well. With plenty of laughs and some near twists and turns, it’s an old-fashioned film with its head in the 21st century. A pleasant surprise and a 100% charmer.
4 out of 5
Director: Tom George
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Saosire Ronan, Adrian Brody, Ruth Wilson, David Olyowo, Harris Dickinson, Sian Clifford, Charlie Cooper, Reece Shearsmith, Tim Key
Written by: Mark Chappell
Running Time: 98 mins
Release date: 9th September 2022