Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan in the film, examining the crime scene in a theatre

See How They Run: A Whodunit Within a Whodunit

Posted by Speakeasy News > Wednesday 14 September 2022 > What's On


On 1952 London’s West End, Agatha Christie’s play, The Mousetrap, is a hit. Hollywood comes knocking at the stage door. But plans for a movie version of this smash-hit play come to an abrupt halt after the film’s Hollywood director is murdered.

Reality
The Mousetrap occupies a special place in the work of Agatha Christie.

The Queen of crime and popular author of the play inserted a caveat in her contract. No film or television transposition is possible as long as the show remains on stage. The producers can’t film the play until six months after its theatrical run ends.

But they never had the opportunity to produce the film adaptation, the detective drama has never left the London West End (the British equivalent of Broadway) since its first night in 1952! With more than 27,000 performances, The Mousetrap is the longest consecutively running play in the world and in the last 70 years, more than 20 million people have seen it in London. (Allowing the playwright’s grandson, Mathew, to become a millionaire by receiving the rights of the play as a birthday gift for his ninth birthday!) It's unbroken run was interrupted when theatres closed during the COVID pandemic.

Pearl Chanda and Adrien Brody.

Fiction
To circumvent the ban on adaptation, director Tom George and screenwriter Mark Chappell imagine their film See How They Run as a whodunit crime story set in 1953 as The Mousetrap, starring Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), celebrates its 100th show, the year after its premiere.

Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody), an overconfident American director , who is persona non grata in Hollywood because of his connections to Communism, hopes to rebuild his reputation by bringing The Mousetrap to the big screen. But he doesn't know that Christie (Shirley Henderson) won’t allow a film version to be made until the play closes.

The first scene of the play presents the discovery of an old woman strangled… But it is behind the scenes, and more precisely in the dressing room, that reality will go beyond fiction when the lifeless body of Leo Köpernick is found, with his head smashed in, as the first observations will indicate, first by a ski then by a sewing machine!

In true Christie style, all the characters have a reason to have wanted the death of the arrogant  filmmaker: his colleagues who he humiliated; the partners of the women whom he flirted with; and those who would happy to see the run of the play end.

The case is entrusted to a mismatched pair of investigators: Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell), a grumpy war veteran, depressed and alcoholic, and the rookie constable Walker (Saoirse Ronan), falsely naive, who struggles to impose her professional credibility in these openly sexist fifties. They will have to reconcile their personal differences on the way to identifying the killer

All through film, the victim (Leo Köpernick) assures the voice-over, offering him the opportunity to list the clichés of the genre as they appear on the screen, the director doesn’t like crime stories.

To conclude, we will take back for you the final line in Agatha Christie’s long-running play: "You're our partners in crime. In order to preserve the traditions of The Mousetrap, can you please keep the secret of 'whodunit' locked in your heart?"

It’s All in the Name

"See how they run" is a line from the nursery rhyme "Three Blind Mice", which was the original name of Christie’s play, which she had written for BBC Radio as an 80th birthday present for Queen Mary, wife of George V. One of the producers asked for the change because she had already produced a play with that title. "The Mousetrap" is a reference to the "play within a play" in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Teaching Tips
If you're doing a sequence on detective stories, the trailer to See How The Run is a great way to introduce the basic vocabulary: victim, killed, suspect, interrogate, mystery, solved, incident, confession, case closed, arrest, murder, serial killer, police, suspicious.

See How They Run (Coup de théâtre) 
On general release 14 September

Murder in a room

If you like this kind of story you will be interested in :

and  Death on the Nile

 

  • Rian Johnson’s Knives Out (with Daniel Craig)

with it sequel : Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery with its streaming release on December 23, 2022, by Netflix.

 

  • Christie-indebted series Only Murders in the Building.
    Two seasons available in France on Disney+.