This year, London’s West End celebrates a very special 70th birthday: Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. As if to tip its fedora in the direction of this classic whodunnit, along comes See How They Run, a devilishly plotted murder-mystery all set around the production of Christie’s play. Taking place in the early 1950s, it begins as the cast and creatives gather to celebrate the production’s 100th performance at a lavish party.
Narrating events is the soon-to-be-murdered Leo Köpernick, an obnoxious Hollywood filmmaker attached to direct a mooted film adaptation. After making a spectacle of himself at the party, drinking whisky and getting into a fight with a young Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), who starred in the original run, he is bludgeoned by a sewing machine in the bowels of the Ambassadors Theatre. He doesn’t seem surprised. It’s always the most unlikeable character who gets bumped off, he reasons.
Investigating the case is the boozy, world-weary Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and the eager-beaver Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan), who loves police work almost as much as she does movie stars. As they begin investigating possible suspects, in true Christie fashion, everyone seems to have a motive. Among them, David Oyelowo’s precious screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris, who had “creative differences” with Leo over the script, and Ruth Wilson’s theatre impresario, at loggerheads with Reece Shearsmith’s producer, who wants the show’s run to end so he can bring it to the screen.
Scripted by Mark Chappell, in a style in which old Agatha would be proud, there’s plenty of head-scratching to be done, especially by the intrepid cops. Much of the humour comes from the naïve Stalker – she’s forever saying “case closed” before realising she’s jumped to yet another conclusion. Still, this only adds to her appeal. It’s one of Brooklyn star Ronan’s most charming performances in ages.
Alongside her, Rockwell gives good grizzle as the Inspector, even if his accent goes a-wandering occasionally. They’re also joined by Tim Key. Known to most as Sidekick Simon from This Time with Alan Partridge, Key steals practically every scene he’s in as the smarmy police commissioner with a dozen sticks up his arse.
Director Tom George has a strong background in comedy, after working on the BAFTA-winning BBC sitcom This Country with Daisy May Cooper. Here, he leans on the laughs wherever possible, using the propulsive nature of the murder in hand to drive the story. Aided by the jaunty use of split screen and the lively score by British composer Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs), the action is kept brisk, as Stoppard and Stalker dash about town.
Echoing that Spike Jonze-Charlie Kaufman classic Adaptation, See How They Run gets quite meta as the final act comes to emulate the form of The Mousetrap. It even draws from the very origins of the show, although when it starts to get too serious, the narrative wobbles like a cheap theatrical set. But if you’re looking for a good-old fashioned romp, stylishly made and frequently hilarious, this ticks all the boxes. Case closed.
- Director: Tom George
- Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Sam Rockwell, Harris Dickinson
- Release date: September 9 (in cinemas)