September 14, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by John Patton Ford
Culture Representation: Taking place in London, mostly in 1953, the comedy/drama film “See How They Run” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asian people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A jaded police inspector and his rookie partner, who have opposite personalities and contrasting styles of working, investigate serial murders that appear to be linked to the planned-for movie adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery play “The Mousetrap.”
Culture Audience: “See How They Run” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies that are inspired by Agatha Christie mystery novels.
“See How They Run” doesn’t quite reach the classic heights of Agatha Christie murder mysteries, which are this comedy/drama movie’s admitted inspirations. However, it’s worth watching for the entertaining performances and clever observations of showbiz. The last third of “See How They Run” stumbles a bit in how the mystery is revealed, but it doesn’t take away from the movie’s overall appeal to viewers who are interested in British movies that poke fun at the entertainment industry in a story about solving crimes.
“See How They Run” is the feature-film directorial debut of Tom George, who is known for directing in British television. His TV credits include his BAFTA-winning work directing the BBC comedy show “The Country,” as well as the BBC comedy “Defending the Guilty.” His keen sense of comedic timing serves “See How They Run” very well, since most Agatha Christie-styled movies definitely do not have the screwball comedy qualities that are in “See How They Run.” Mark Chappell wrote the “See How They Run” screenplay, which is better at crafting characters than it is as explaining some of the unanswered questions in this murder mystery.
Every movie inspired by Agatha Christie’s writing has a fairly large ensemble of characters who are considered suspects or persons of interests in the murder case until the real killer or killers can eventually be revealed. The body count in “See How They Run” is a lot lower than a typical story of this ilk, but that just makes it more intriguing to guess who’s behind the murders. Fortunately, the movie isn’t cluttered with too many chararacters, so it’s easy to keep track of who everyone is.
“See How They Run,” which is set primarily in 1953 London, also balances multiple layers, because it’s a story with several flashbacks, as well as a whodunit that’s directly tied to the real-life, long-running West End production of Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” Although most of the characters in “See How They Run” are fictional, some of the characters are based on real people, including Christie herself. The movie does a better job at handling the flashbacks than it does in trying to show parallels between “The Mousetrap” and the original screenplay for “See How They Run.”
“See How They Run” opens with a scene that is later referred to in flashbacks. In 1953, on London’s West End, several people have gathered for a nighttime party at the Dominion Theatre, to celebrate the 100th performance of “The Mousetrap.” Among the partiers are members of the cast and some people who are involved in making a feature film version of “The Mousetrap,” including American director Leo Köpernick (played by Adrien Brody), who has been blacklisted in Hollywood, due to the Red Scare targeting suspected Communists.
The night of this party will also be the last night of Leo’s life, since he will be murdered in a backstage costume shop by a mystery person wearing a trench coat, a mask and a fedora. The murderer definitely looks like a man, but with these mystery stories, the killer’s gender can’t always be presumed. At first, Leo is attacked by the murderer trying to strangle Leo with a wire. Leo breaks free, but is killed when the murderer beats him to with a fire extinguisher.
A now-dead Leo then provides intermittent narration for the rest of the movie. Not everyone who watches this movie will like this “voice from the dead” narration. However, it’s a director choice that’s quite unconventional and provides a perspective that doesn’t make things easy for viewers, because Leo is eventually exposed as a sleazy character who might be an unreliable narrator.
The two cops who end up being the primary investigators for Leo’s murder are two very opposite people: Inspector Stoppard (played by Inspector Sam Rockwell) is a world-weary alcoholic, who approaches the investigation with a skepticism where he doesn’t come to any conclusions until he sees indisputable evidence. Constable Stalker (played by Saiorse Ronan) is an eager-to-please rookie who’s an Irish immigrant with a tendency to jump to conclusions without hard evidence.
Predictably, Stoppard and Stalker often clash, with Stoppard embodying the cliché of an older cop who’s forced to work with a younger cop and is frequently annoyed by the younger cop in the process. It doesn’t help that Stoppard is very sexist and doesn’t believe that police detective work is a job that women can do as well as men. The supervisor for Stoppard and Stalker is a police commissioner named Harrold Scott (played by Tim Key), who is more concerned about his own public-relations image and career ambitions than he is about getting justice for the crimes investigated by his department.
It isn’t long before Stoppard and Stalker have a group of people to interview and investigate. They include:
- Petula “Choo” Spencer (played by Ruth Wilson), the no-nonsense producer/chief investor of “The Mousetrap” play. It’s later revealed that she has a motive to prevent the movie version of “The Mousetrap” from getting made.
- Mignon Saunders (played by Ania Marson), Petula’s eccentric mother. Mignon doesn’t say much, but does that mean she knows more than she’s telling?
- John Woolf (played by Reece Shearsmith), the wealthy film producer of “The Mousetrap” movie. (This character is based on the real John Woolf.) John is the person who decided to hire Leo, because of Leo’s talent and track record of making award-winning films.
- Ann Saville (played by Pippa Bennett Warner), John’s administrative assistant and his mistress. Ann is every much in love with John and expects him to eventually divorce his wife and marry Ann.
- Edana Romney (played by Sian Clifford), John’s wife, who considers herself to be an amateur psychic. It’s revealed in the movie if she knows about John’s affair with Ann.
- Mervyn “Merv” Cocker-Norris (played by David Oyelowo), the pompous screenwriter for “The Mousetrap” movie. Mervyn and Leo were feuding because Leo didn’t like Mervyn’s script, but Mervyn refused to do a rewrite. Not long before Leo was murdered, Leo and Mervyn had a very public argument where Mervyn threatened to kill Leo.
- Giovanni “Gio” Bigotti (played by Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), Mervyn’s Italian lover, who is fairly quiet and very supportive of Mervyn. Giovanni and Mervyn are a gay couple in a “don’t ask, don’t tell way,” where they don’t make it obvious but they don’t try to hide the nature of their relationship either.
- Dennis (played by Charlie Cooper), a Dominion Theatre usher who reported that he saw a “suspicious”-looking man lurking in the area where Leo’s murdered body was found.
- Richard “Dickie” Attenborough (played by Harris Dickinson), the hotshot actor who’s the star of “The Mousetrap” play. Based on the real Attenborough, this character wants to do everything possible to keep the play going
- Sheila Sim (played by Pearl Chanda), Dickie’s actress wife (based on the real Sheila Sim), whose career has become overshadowed by Dickie’s. Sheila and Dickie, who are co-stars in “The Mousetrap” play, have been experiencing some problems in their marriage, and their relationship has become somewhat strained.
World-renowned mystery writer Christie (played by Shirley Henderson) makes an appearance in the last third of the movie and does something awkward that isn’t handled very well or is made believable, considering that she is a crime aficionado. This tricky scene is played for laughs, but it could have been thought out in a much better way. Her devoted husband Max Mallowan (played by Lucian Msamati) and her prickly butler Fellowes (played by Paul Chahidi) also make appearances toward the end of the movie.
Constable Stalker is often a bundle of nervous energy when she’s with Inspector Stoddard. She talks quickly and is eager to share her knowledge of movies (she’s a big fan) and crime novels, but he shows disdain for this fiction entertainment influencing her thoughts as police investigator. Later, when Constable Stalker and Inspector Stoddard spend some time alone together, they open up to each other about their personal lives. She’s a widow with a son and a daughter. He’s divorced (his wife left him) with no children. Constable Stalker eventually finds out about Inspector Stoddard’s alcoholism and sees how vulnerable his alcoholism makes him.
Of course, every murder mystery reveals secrets about the people who are being investigated. Leo is not a sympathetic victim. The police find out that he has a long history of sexually harassing and possibly sexually assaulting women. Leo kept meticulous records of the women he encountered.
As an example of Leo being a sexual predator, he was staying at the luxury Savoy Hotel (in a suite paid for by John), where the maids eventually refused to go in Leo’s suite because of how badly he was sexually harassing them. On the night that Leo was murdered, he and Dickie got into a huge physical brawl in front of the party crowd. The fight happened because Leo sexually propositioned Sheila, by implying that Leo would cast her in “The Mousetrap” movie if she had sex with him.
“See How They Run” is filmed and performed much like how this movie would look if it really were filmed in 1953. This type of retro filmmaking won’t appeal to everyone, but the movie does a competent job of recreating the British culture, fashion and production design of that era. There are signs and not-so-subtle indications that Constable Stalker is an outsider not just because she’s a woman in a very male-dominated field but also because she’s an Irish immigrant living in the England.
Rockwell and Ronan, who are both talented in whatever they do, have a crackling chemistry as Stoppard and Stalker that intentionally starts off as uncomfortable to watch but becomes somewhat endearing as Stoppard and Stalker begin to trust each other in this “odd couple” police partnership. Oyelowo is also a standout because he looks like he’s having fun playing the pretentious and flamboyant Mervyn, who has some of the best lines in the movie.a
“See How They Run” falters with a few murky plot developments that raise questions that aren’t really answered. One of them involves the identity of Stoppard’s ex-wife. However, the movie does effectively lampoon a lot of the stereotypes of murder mystery movies, such as the use of flashbacks and using the most obvious suspects as red herrings. There are also many satirical moments about what showbiz people say and do in pursuit of fame, fortune and power.
Are there much better murder mystery movies in the world? Of course. “See How They Run” isn’t among the cream of the crop. However, for people who are inclined to like this genre and like watching talented cast members who give capable performances, this movie can offer some enjoyable escapism.
Searchlight Pictures will release “See How They Run” in U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on September 9, 2022.