Last year had one of the arguably best books of Agatha Christie MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS being released, boasting a big budget and an impressive acting ensemble. There was a much quieter release of CROOKED HOUSE, about a family whose public profile is threatened by its patriarch's murder, without a doubt committed by one of the family members. Penned by DOWNTON ABBEY’s Julian Fellows, and directed by a Frenchman Gilles Paquet-Brenner, whose speciality is to direct big stars in smaller films, CROOKED HOUSE has all the qualities of a period drama, full of romantic innuendos, Femmes Fatales and soaked in dark Victorian atmosphere.
I have been a big fan of Agatha Christie since I was a child. My mother read me THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD when I was only six and everything I learned about plot and character building is from her books. During her career Agatha Christie created a few twists than no one had ever done before her and other authors used them extensively long after she was gone. The first is “the unreliable narrator”, the second is “the victim is the killer”, the third is “the detective is the one who did it”. And there is the CROOKED HOUSE twist, where the mystery revelation is such a punch in the gut that no one has really repeated it ever since (or dared to repeat it I should say). This one thing is worth watching the movie for if you are not going to read the book (which is always a better option).
I think the ending and the family setting (similar to Downton Abbey) is what attracted Julian Fellows. The cast may be arguably better than the one in last year’s ORIENT EXPRESS: Glenn Close, Terrence Stamp, Gillian Anderson – all have time to shine. The atmosphere of a cosy mystery and snappy dialogue is better built for TV, and this is why the movie did not get widespread cinema release. Running for two hours the film grows on you, delivering interesting characters that will stay with you long after the credits roll. As a fan of the novel I was pretty happy with this adaptation: it held the spirit of the book and even improved on the character relationships, making them more cinematic. It does not boast the budget of Kenneth Branagh’s ORIENT EXPRESS, but in its own right and in my opinion is a better and more focused version of a much darker Christie novel.
The film is to be released in Australia on BLU RAY this February (final date is to be confirmed).