Year Released: 2017
Directed by: Giles Paquet-Brenner
Starring: Max Irons, Stefanie Martini, Glenn Close
(PG-13, 155 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense, Drama
“Well, there’s always a second murder.” Josephine Leonides
Classic Agatha Christie: A magnificent mansion sheltering a dysfunctional family as neurotic as they are rich. And the estate is filled with priceless antiques, dark passageways, dusty attics, secret letters, seething passion, and of course, a corpse or two.
In Agatha Christie's most twisted tale, a spy-turned-private-detective is lured by his former lover to catch her grandfather's murderer before Scotland Yard exposes dark family secrets.
And if you know your Christie, there’s a good chance of poison – in this case, the victim’s own eye drops substituted for his insulin injection. The 85-year-old patriarch Aristide Leonides goes to his death a bit prematurely, but no one is worried about the will. All of the family, mostly living their lives like hothouse plants under his patronage, will be provided for.
But when the expected will surfaces, it is unsigned. By default, all the money will go to his 37 year old second wife, Brenda (Christina Hendricks) a former exotic dancer from Las Vegas, who of course becomes the prime suspect, along with the grandchildren’s tutor, who is rumored to be her lover.
Dancing along the edges of the murder investigation is Charles Hayward (Max Irons – yes, he is Jeremy’s son), a former Foreign Service diplomat (spy), who has taken up private detection after a sad affair in Cairo.
And that lost love just happens to be old Leonides’ granddaughter Sophia (Stephanie Martini), who persuades him to investigate this suspicious death. There’s still a lot of chemistry between the two, as much as they each try to deny it, and their on again off again romance keeps us interested as much as the murder mystery.
Part of the fun is seeing some old hand Americans resurfacing as Brits and doing a fine job of it. Glenn Close plays Lady Edith, the spinster sister of Aristide’s first wife. But she is no soft and fluffy Miss Marple. She greets the young Hayward with a long gun in hand, blathering on about her ongoing battle with an army of moles invading the lawn. Dressed in stylish riding breeches, with short-coifed silver hair, she is as passionate and striking as her Alex Forrest in 1987’s Fatal Attraction, but now her love is for her sister’s grandchildren instead of a married man. And her intended victims are the moles instead of a poor bunny. Finally, she has some of the best lines, especially when she describes her fellow householders:
It is a hothouse of suppressed passion. This is what happens when the person you love the most in the world – who you would give your life for – is actually the same person that you hate the most.
Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) is Magda Leonides, Sophia’s mother, but nothing like her very balanced daughter. Ebony locks, fashioned almost exactly like Cleopatra’s, seem about as real as her melodramatic outbursts. The fading stage star may not be getting many playing parts now, but she is certainly still a drama queen. Anderson, the once earnest “Scully” appears to love hamming it up here, throwing away all those years of scientific detachment and diving deep into the melodrama. The murder of Magda’s father-in-law is just another stage for her very own performance.
Sophia’s two younger siblings seem to take after their mother in their equally obsessive vanities. Twelve-year-old Josephine (Honor Kneafsey) plays the part of detective, listening at doors, and in general spying on the lot – a little like Mark Zuckerberg, but not quite as rich. Her curiosity seems as morbidly detached as her mother’s vanity:
Well, there's always a second murder. Someone who knows something is bumped off before they can reveal what they know.
Young Eustace, the young heir, homebound and slightly crippled, is similarly unfeeling, and certainly not particularly enamored of his grandfather or the wealth that succors him:
Chris Hayward: Now, your grandfather has just died.
Eustace: A good thing, really. It's one less capitalist.
And that’s not all in this nest of freaks and vipers, but you get the idea. The only thing in anyone’s favor in terms of being a murder suspect, is that most of them are all so self obsessed and indolent, we wander if any would have the energy and will to pull the thing off.
We also have a bit of fun with the various wings of the palatial estate that house each couple or family. The apartment of Brenda, the Las Vegas second wife, is as pink as her pouting lips, the walls graced with oversized images of her.
While Roger and Clemency, the favored son and his scientific wife, live in somewhat Spartan coolness, almost an ascetic retreat within the opulence of the larger house.
The British film moves the time frame from the novel's 1947 setting up a decade and weaves in some rock and roll songs and even a night of jitterbugging for Sophia and Charles. It sets off some sparks, even if some purists object that several songs had not yet emerged at that date.
For us Christie fans, it is always wonderful to have a new adaptation. And as some have observed, this one stays fairly close to the original. Sadly that is not the case with several of the “new” Miss Marple renditions with Geraldine McEwan in the role, where the writers gratuitously add modern cultural traditions and sometimes elaborate plot deviations. We don’t need any new spice for our favorites. We like them pretty much the way they were written. The Crooked House, despite its title, runs pretty straight.
Enjoy. (It’s available free on Amazon Prime.)
I know it’s Agatha Christie, but the first victim is American, and so is Brenda, his glamorous wife, the Las Vegas showgirl. Her apartment within his huge English mansion is as pink as her pouting lips. And she sips her pink cocktail with such panache, too.
Our recipe comes from the great state of Wisconsin, but who is to say that is not from where our transplanted showgirl emerged? Many a Midwestern young lady has set her sights on the city of lights, and hopped on the bus with her suitcase and dreams.
The Pink Squirrel is Wisconsin’s rosy response to the classic green Grasshopper, which swaps in almond liqueur for the older cocktail’s crème de menthe. Though it can be (and often is) served as a milkshake, we prefer it shaken, sans ice cream.
Pink Squirrel Cocktail
1 OZ CRÈME DE NOYAUX
1 OZ WHITE CRÈME DE CACAO
2 OZ CREAM
3 MARASCHINO CHERRIES, SKEWERED, FOR GARNISH
1. Add all ingredients save for the garnish to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice.
2. Shake and strain into coupe glass.
3. Garnish with skewered cherries.