It seems unlikely this meta-mystery would have made it to the big screen without the success of Knives Out. Once again a collection of carefully worked stereotypical suspects attempt to avoid arrest by comic variations on classic detectives. The filmmakers lay out their stall early on by sending one Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) to investigate a murder in London’s West End. See How They Run is not quite so self-regarding as Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, but See How They Run is a delightful, shamelessly affectionate deconstruction of ChristieLand that outstays not a second of its welcome.
The murder has happened on the stage of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. In a joke typical of Mark Chappell’s script, one possible motive appears to be the play’s pesky longevity. It is 1953 and they just can’t get it out of the theatre. You won’t need to be told it is still running nearly 70 years later.
Assisting the damaged, often intoxicated Stoppard is Saoirse Ronan as the hilariously overeager Constable Stalker. They make a complementary team. Offered a rare opportunity to act in her own accent, Ronan scribbles furiously in her notebook while Rockwell finds new ways to stumble unsteadily from Soho pubs. Their interactions are largely comic, but the screenplay also convincingly addresses the traumas so many Londoners carried over from the war.
Students of Christie and of mid-20th century English life in general will relish the melding of real-life characters with fictional composites. Playing Richard Attenborough, Harris Dickinson works a little of that actor’s native Leicester into his fruity delivery. Reece Shearsmith gives good outrage as John Woolf, Oscar-winning British producer of The African Queen and Oliver!. The standout performance is, however, yet again that of Saoirse Ronan. She has already generated laughs in Lady Bird and (albeit briefly) The Grand Budapest Hotel, but here makes the most of an opportunity to fully exploit Rolex-level comic timing.
There is little sense of late-rationing-era austerity here. The cars all gleam as if auditioning for commercials on the still unavailable colour television. The dialogue features notable anachronisms such as “serial killer” (when referring to the Rillington Place murders). It is not, however, as if the average Agatha Christie novel – still less adaptation – has much truck with verisimilitude. At least as enjoyable as Knives Out, See How They Run crackles with invention and high spirits. We pray for its success and look forward eagerly to another “Constable Stalker Mystery”.