See How They Run movie review: this meta-mystery showcases Saoirse’s comedy chops to perfection

·3-min read
See How They Run movie review: this meta-mystery showcases Saoirse’s comedy chops to perfection

Set in London’s West End, See How They Run is being given a big push by Disney, who want to sell it as the next Knives Out. It’s not quite as weighty (or plausible) as Rian Johnson’s whodunnit, but on the plus side, it’s a gazillion times smarter and wittier than Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile, offers a puzzle worth solving and is super-cosy. Despite seeing it in a miserably cold screening room, I felt snug as a bug throughout.

It’s the 1950s and Saoirse Ronan is nerdy, inexperienced Constable Stalker, assigned to help world-weary, war-wounded Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell), handle the murder of Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody), a US producer who, we discover, was desperate to turn the popular play, The Mousetrap, into a Hollywood-friendly movie (Leo wanted more guns, bromance and lashings of Hank Williams).

As the police interview Leo’s enemies (he had no friends), Stalker writes everything down in her notebook. She can’t curb her enthusiasm for fresh intel and is constantly jumping to conclusions. She’s also a martyr to her own good manners; watch her face as she’s offered and then sips fresh nettle tea.

Pearl Chanda and Harris Dickinson as Sheila Sim and Dickie Attenborough (20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)
Pearl Chanda and Harris Dickinson as Sheila Sim and Dickie Attenborough (20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)

Ronan displayed her gift for comedy in Brooklyn, Ladybird, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Little Women. She’s always had perfect timing, but we’ve never filed her under “laugh a minute”. See How They Run will change that.

Equally delectable are Harris Dickinson and Ruth Wilson, both playing characters based on real-world legends. Dickinson is The Mousetrap’s charmingly condescending lead, Richard Attenborough; Wilson is the show’s outrageously penny-pinching impresario, Petula Spencer (a playfully cruel spin on theatre producer Peter Saunders).

You don’t need to have seen The Mousetrap, by the way (or remember who did what, at the end) to follow what’s going on. That said, you’ll get an extra kick out of the proceedings if you view Christie as a genius. Via its hero’s name, See How They Run signals that it’s part of a tradition of meta-mysteries, i.e. Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound. But unlike Stoppard, scriptwriter Mark Chappell has respect for what he’s deconstructing.

Adrien Brody as brash producer Leo Köpernick and David Oyelowo as the precious writer Mervyn Cocker-Norris (20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)
Adrien Brody as brash producer Leo Köpernick and David Oyelowo as the precious writer Mervyn Cocker-Norris (20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)

The problem is Californian star, Rockwell. Is it wrong to harp about his “English” accent, given that many a big name (see Knives Out’s Daniel Craig) has thrown authenticity to the wind? No. Rockwell’s accent is a different kettle of fishy, because the script makes so much of the Inspector’s back story. It’s deeply distracting that the inspector seems, from the off, like a man with something to hide. Viewers may find themselves thinking: “I’ve cracked the case! The Inspector’s secret: he’s an out-of-his-depth actor!”

Also, Stalker’s home life is unnecessarily complicated and, on closer inspection, doesn’t add up. If there’s to be a sequel (and Tom George’s sweet and wickedly clever film deserves one), that rumple in the plot needs smoothing out. Christie would never.

98mins, cert 12A

In cinemas