Crooked House (2017)

  • Time: 115 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Mystery
  • Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
  • Cast: Christina Hendricks, Gillian Anderson, Glenn Close


In this classic Agatha Christie detective story, former diplomat Charles Hayward has returned from Cairo to London to become a private detective. When Aristide Leonides, a wealthy and ruthless tycoon, is poisoned in his own bed, Detective Hayward is invited to solve the crime. As the investigation deepens he must confront the shocking realization that one of the key suspects is Aristede’s beautiful granddaughter, his employer and former lover; and must keep a clear head to navigate the sultry Sophia and the rest of her hostile family.

One review

  • “Everybody wants to know who killed him, but nobody has a clue.” The him in question is Aristide Leonides, the near-midget, megalomaniacal mega-millionaire who has evidently been murdered by someone still residing on his sprawling estate. The suspects in question are the other members of the Leonides clan, most of whom, as is the usual business of any Agatha Christie novel, have their reasons for wanting him dead.

    Considered by many of her fans to be among her best and acknowledged by Christie herself to be one of her two favourites (Ordeal by Innocence being the other), Crooked House may be a less starry and big budget affair than Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, but is in many ways the more superior of the two adaptations, providing delicious twists, gorgeous visuals, and devoid of the fustiness that cobwebbed the corners of Branagh’s offering. The story’s investigator, Charles Hayward (Max Irons), may be bland compared to the inimitable Hercule Poirot but, when one has to contend with the fantastic beasts that comprise the Leonides clan, it helps to be a somewhat blank slate rather than a spotlight-attracting master detective. Not that Charles is lacking in intrigue since he had a romantic affair with the dead man’s beloved granddaughter Sophia de Havilland (a striking Stefanie Martin) back when he was a diplomat stationed in Cairo.

    Their shared past renders Charles reluctant to take on the case when Sophia approaches him, but he can’t afford to turn down the money. Though police reports rule Leonides’ death a heart attack, Sophia believes that her grandfather’s regular insulin injection was switched with poison, and so it is up to Charles to suss out the killer before the press get wind of the possible foul play and destroy the family’s much-valued privacy. Arriving at the estate, he’s met by a shotgun-toting Lady Edith de Havilland (deliciously hammy Glenn Close), the sister of Leonides’ first wife; she never much liked the Greek immigrant marrying into her aristocratic family but she did end up admiring her boorish brother-in-law. Then there are Sophia’s parents: alcoholic theatre actress Magda (a languorously slinky Gillian Anderson) and the dissolute Philip (Julian Sands), who is bitterly resentful that he has never been his father’s favourite son. That (dis)honour would go to the quick-tempered Roger (Christian McKay), who is running the family business to the ground and who just wants to get himself and his wife Clemency (Amanda Abbington), who is an expert in plant toxicology, out of the mansion once and for all. Rounding out the tribe are Sophia’s siblings: polio-stricken teenager Eustace (Preston Nyman) and twelve-year-old Josephine (Honor Kneafsey), who introduces herself to Charles by saying she knows a lot of things and, now that her grandfather is dead, she is by far the cleverest person in the house, and ominously states that the murderer is never the one you suspect. So perhaps Charles shouldn’t believe the rest of the family, who are convinced that Leonides’ much-younger, former showgirl wife Brenda (a touching Christina Hendricks at her most Marilyn Monroe-esque) is the killer?

    The screenplay by Julian Fellowes, Tim Rose Price and director Gilles-Paquet Brenner crackles with silkily venomous dialogue and the actors all deliver diabolically delectable portrayals that keep one guessing as to the true perpetrator. The ending, of which Christie was particularly proud, is dynamite. The jewel in the film’s crown, however, is its superlative production design courtesy of Simon Bowles. Each room has been meticulously crafted to reflect the characters’ individual personalities – a sterile stark white dotted with lush greens for Clemency, a luxe pink-walled boudoir for Brenda, the heavily Egyptian-influenced ornateness for the eternally theatrical Magda, and so on, all elegantly showcased by Sebastian Wintero’s polished camerawork.

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