'See How They Run' director moves past 'sepia tinted' '50s London in Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan whodunit
Director Tom George has taken on the whodunit genre with See How They Run (now in theatres), alongside an all-star cast including Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, David Oyelowo and Adrien Brody, trying to solve a mysterious death centred around a theatre production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.
Set in London in 1953, Inspector Stoppard (Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Ronan) begin an investigation after Hollywood filmmaker Leo Köpernick (Brody), set to make The Mousetrap into a movie, is found dead the night of the play’s 100th performance. The officers have to investigate all possible suspects, which include screenwriter Melvyn (Oyelowo), who had been fighting with Leo about the movie plans, and the show’s star Richard Attenborough, played by Harris Dickinson.
For George, with See How They Run his feature film debut, he wanted to move away from how the city in the 1950s is frequently depicted on screen, really leaning into a more vibrant colour palette for the film.
“It was a reaction to some of those more nostalgic portrayals of post-war London in late ‘40s, early ‘50s London, that we've been fed through films in particular, and particularly in the last 15 to 20 years,” George told Yahoo Canada. “So often London, in that period, is depicted as a sort of sepia tinted, soft focus,...that's almost solidified how I think a lot of people think about that period in London's history, and that's no more truthful than any other gaze.”
“I love history but I'm always very wary of nostalgia, and so it felt like I wasn't interested in revisiting that approach. I was excited to show off my home city in a vibrant, rich, textured way that I felt was both in keeping with the story,...but also just to get away from that idea that colours look different 50 years ago, they didn't.”
'Every twist has been done in some way or another'
The concept of a murder-mystery film is certainly not new, but Tom George was aware of that. He saw the story as a great opportunity to blend comedy and drama, with the challenge of making it feel new in such a saturated genre.
“I think what first attracted me to it was the chance to make something that was both a thriller and also a comedy,” George said.
“The challenge to come into the [whodunit] genre is that so many things, in terms of plot, have been done before… People have for the last 50, 60, 70 years been shuffling those pieces around the board and trying to create new and ingenious stories that broadly function within that mechanic. So I think from a filmmaker's point of view, the challenge becomes, how do you do something new in that space, where probably a new plot is potentially beyond you, because every twist has been done in some way or another.”
What shines through in See How They Run is the great ensemble cast that executes deliciously sarcastic, self-aware comedy, all under the lead of Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan’s characters.
“At its heart it's a character comedy, and it's the story of this partnership between the two of them, and whether these unlikely partners can come together to crack the case,” George said. “Working with Sam and Saoirse, it was amazing watching them develop this on-screen relationship between their two characters, which was definitely built on a sort of strong off-screen affinity for each other.”
“They're both really concerned with nuance and detail, and making the characters, ultimately, really be truthful… You have these potentially heightened characters in this potentially heightened world of the theatre, and so from a performance point of view, it’s really important to me that those two really root the piece... Both comedy and drama always land with more impact when you believe in those characters, and when you're really on board with their journey.”