See How They Run – movie review

Do you love the theatre? How about whodunnits? If you said yes to either, then Tom George’s star-studded See How They Run is likely to be your cup of tea. This frothy mystery has its problems, but still manages to tick a lot of boxes.

The script by Mark Chappell is crammed full with theatrical references and in-jokes. I admit I didn’t pick up on all of them, but a lot are pretty obvious. It also leans into the whodunnit genre without ever subverting it. So it’s more of a fun ride through the tropes of classic British mysteries than a deep examination of them.

If you know your theatre lore, you might recall Agatha Christie famously insisted no film version of her play The Mousetrap could be made until it finished its theatrical run. Her caveat provides the starting point for the film. It’s the early 1950s and The Mousetrap has been running for about 6 months. With the juicy prospect of a movie adaptation on the horizon, Hollywood director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) is in town to see the play and schmooze with the producers. But a murder on set throws everything into chaos. Enter haggard Inspector Stoppard* (Sam Rockwell) and his chipper but inexperienced sidekick Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan).

They start investigating the crime, but not everyone is concerned to assist. Producer Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson) won’t hear of even a single performance being cancelled, let alone close the show down completely. Writer Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo) is keen to mine the situation for a future script – possibly The Mousetrap. Meanwhile, Stoppard’s boss – Commissioner Scott (Tim Key) – is under pressure to solve the case as soon as possible. But with so many suspects and motives, can the knots be unravelled? Is the world-weary Stoppard the right choice? Will he crack under the pressure? And can Stalker make a difference?

While See How They Run has all the classic elements lined up, it has a major problem in the second act. What seems to be an attempt to introduce some character development stops the narrative dead. By the time it gets going again in the third act, the film has to pick up the pieces. This leads to a climax that’s both rushed and rather insipid. I didn’t find the ultimate reveal all that shocking – or even interesting – but that might be a point George is trying to make. The film tries to send up those classic British drawing-room mysteries. But in the process, it perhaps loses sight of what makes those stories so compelling in the first place. Compare and contrast the fabulous Knives Out for an example of how successful this type of film can be.

Despite the script issues, the cast deliver fine performances. Sam Rockwell (Jojo Rabbit) is suitably shambolic as Stoppard, while Tim Key (Days of the Bagnold Summer) has some nice moments as the Commissioner. The “theatre” characters however have more fun – particularly David Oyelowo (A United Kingdom) as the stylish writer and Adrien Brody (The French Dispatch) as the raffish director. Pearl Chanda (War of the Worlds – TV series) and Harris Dickinson (The King’s Man) sparkle as real-life couple Sheila Sims and Richard Attenborough. But Saoirse Ronan (Ammonite) just about walks away with the film as the resourceful Stalker.

While not the best of its genre, See How They Run is nonetheless an entertaining enough romp. If you love theatre, with all its rituals and superstitions, you’ll probably get a lot out of this. For the casual viewer however, it might all be a bit baffling.

*One of those theatre in-jokes – look up Tom Stoppard if confused

David Edwards

Other reviews you might enjoy:

1 thought on “See How They Run – movie review

Comments are closed.