When I saw the trailer for See How They Run a couple of months before it came out, I looked at my husband in the dark theater and whispered “Uh huh.” The movie version of a favorite play, starring one of my favorite actresses, Saoirse Ronan? That would be a yes, for sure.
I had seen the play twice, once by a polished community theater and once by a Christian middle school. It’s a testimony to the play that even the middle school version made me love it.
But how would the play, a farcical affair with lots of gasps and slammed doors and doors being flung open seconds later, translate to the big screen? As it turns out, not perfectly, but well enough to call it an entertaining night at the movies.
It’s 1953, and “The Mousetrap,” based on a mystery novel of the same name by Agatha Christie, is celebrating its 100th performance at London’s West End. (Today, the play has been running for 70 years straight, with only a break for the pandemic, making it the longest run in the history of theater.) It’s iconic already, and a vulgar film producer named Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) aims to exploit this by making a film version of it. Unfortunately for him, Dame Agatha has stipulated in her contract that no film shall be made until six months after the play’s last run (which at this point seems to be “never ever”). The greasy producer clashes with everyone he meets as he disrespects the book and the play at every turn. Soon, Kopernick ends up dead in the costume room, and we have our backstage mystery within a frontstage mystery.
Enter Scotland Yard, and jaded Police Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and the overeager newcomer, Constable Stalker (those names!), played with sprightly intensity by Saoirse Ronan. By-the-book Stalker writes every jot and tittle down in her notebook, and is spring-loaded to make her first arrest, while Stoppard is bored by everything. He can’t wait to ditch his wide-eyed apprentice for the first pub he sees. Ronan, of course, runs away with the movie. Despite her character’s lack of experience, the audience knows immediately to trust her instincts and follow her lead.
Agatha Christie fans will enjoy this ode to British drawing room comedy-mysteries. The character of Christie herself even makes a droll appearance in the film, and there are several winks to her real-life disappearance in 1926. In fact, moviegoers should have their “winking caps” on to catch all the little asides and references (sorry, I had to).
Production values showcase the sumptuous architecture and clothing of the theater in the 1950s, and a decadent jazz soundtrack fits the mood perfectly.
Both the stage productions of “The Mousetrap'' and “See How They Run” end with the cast embroiling the audience in the secret of whodunit. Wonderfully, countless thousands of theatergoers have kept their lips sealed for seven decades as to the identity of the murderer in both plays. I certainly won’t be the first to let the cat(s) out of the bag!
Yes, Knives Out is better, as are Christie’s multitude of novels and film adaptations. Still, for a solidly constructed period piece of mystery mixed with comedy, See How They Run is cheeky good, clean fun. (Rated PG-13 for bloody images, Searchlight Pictures)