Gilles Paquet-Brenner‘s take on Agatha Christie’s novel Crooked House with a script by Julian Fellows (Downton Abbey) and a rather wonderfully starry cast with some campy performances, and filmed on location in the stately Hughenden Manor, had all the ingredients for being a far better movie than it was. Despite all these elements it had going for it, the end result was a rather pedestrian film that seemed more apropos to a low budget made-for-television movie.
The story set in post WW2 England starts when private detective Charles Haywood ( Max Irons ) is commissioned by his ex lover Sophie (Stefanie Martini) to investigate the recent death of her wealthy grandfather in which she suspects foul play. The manor house that this all occurred in is home to a whole host of extended family each of whom think they have benefitted from the will of the late patriarch.
There’s the very eccentric sister of his first wife Lady Edith (Glenn Close); son Roger(Christian McKay) currently running the main family into the ground and his wife Clemency (Amanda Abbington); failed gambler and bitter older son Philip (Julian Sands) and his unsuccessful over-the-top actress wife Magda (Gillian Anderson); and his vampy much younger American ex-showgirl wife Brenda (Christina Hendricks ).
Once it is established that the wealthy tycoon has indeed been poisoned then the Private Eye, along with the very fatherly Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Tavener (Terence Stamp), determines that everyone has a motive. When a new will surfaces that now leaves everything to Brenda she becomes the chief suspect and is whisked away in hand cuffs. Naturally in true Christie fashion, after yet another murder in the household, the killer very dramatically turns out to be the one person that nobody suspected.
It is all beautifully photographed in the dramatically lit manor that reeks of a rather grand and fading lifestyle, complete with highly spirited performance from a top-notch cast, but even they cannot always breath life into the usual stereotypical aristocratic Christie characters.
The Crooked House was reputedly one of Dame Agatha’s personal favorite novels, but I don’t think that this movie version would ever make her top ten list.