You can read the blog, or you can click on one of the icons below to listen to the podcast version! Click HERE for more listening options!
**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
Crooked House by Agatha Christie (1949)
Crooked House directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Charles and Sophia meet in Cairo and fall in love. He is leaving for two years for the war, so they part ways with the intent to reach out when he returns to England in two years.
Two years pass and before reaching out to Sophia, he reads that her very rich grandfather has died. She and all her family live in the same mansion together and she had told him how fond she was of her grandfather.
When they meet in person, he wants to get married, but she says they can’t until the business with her father’s death is figured out because she suspects he was murdered. Charles’s father works for Scotland Yard, so the two of them, plus another police officer go to the house and conduct interviews and investigate the death which does turn out to be murder.
Long story short, the inquisitive 12 year old girl who had formed a kind of friendship with Charles, ends up being the killer. She seems to have some kind of personality disorder which led her to commit two murders just for the excitement of it. In the end, she is killed with her aunt who knows the truth.
Thoughts on the Book
Agatha Christie had a forward in this book where she said how this is one of her personal favorites. The Leonides family just came to life, and their story flowed from her as she wrote it. I have read many Christie books, however, aside from this one, the last time I read one was probably like ten years ago now. With that disclaimer, I would say that this one isn’t a top favorite, but since the others aren’t fresh in my mind, and even mesh together, maybe it’s not a fair judgement. Having said that, I did enjoy the book and it was a fun read. I didn’t guess who the killer was, till right about the time it was told to us!
Last week I talked about Gone Girl and shared a quote by author Gillian Flynn about how she wants more female villains who are just evil. Josephine fits the bill! Maybe Amy Elliot Dunne is too fresh in my mind, but Josephine seems to have the traits of a psychopath. Creepy, killer children have become normal these days. But when this book was published in 1949, having a young girl be the murderer I’m sure came as quite a surprise! Having Aunt Edith kill Josephine and herself by crashing the car also seems to be a bit dark compared to other Christie novels.
Speaking of Gillian Flynn, the director of this movie, Gilles Paquet-Brenner, directed the movie adaptation of the Flynn novel Dark Places! Assuming I cover that at some point, this won’t be the last we hear of Paquet-Brenner!
Max Irons plays Charles and I was very unimpressed. One of the many children of a Hollywood star who think they inherited the acting gene. Or maybe he knows he’s not a very good actor but doesn’t care because when you have a famous parent you can become a star anyway.
Stefanie Martini is Sophia and I thought she was a good choice. I had no problem with her acting, her character is stranger than she had been in the book but I didn’t mind that. She had been in some tv shows prior, but this was her first time acting in a movie!
Glenn Close is Edith de Haviland and she was excellent.
Honor Kneafsey is well cast as Josephine and is wonderful. In a review I read, the person said that in scenes between her and Irons, Irons is outshined by this young actress and I agree that is often the case.
Christina Hendricks plays Brenda and I thought she was well cast. Some aspects of Brenda’s storyline were changed from book to movie, but with this new backstory, Hendricks gave a great performance. I’m also biased towards loving any actors that were in the amazing show Mad Men, which Henricks was.
Sophia and Charles
In the book, Charles and Sophia fell in love and were basically engaged while he helped unofficially investigate the murder. In the movie, there was some drama between them because when they met in Cairo, she was incognito, and Charles was working for the police or something and they asked him to spy on her, which she found out about. This, plus family drama with Aristide, caused her to rush off. She then appears at his private detective office and hires him to find out who killed Aristide. In the book, Charles was not a detective and was only involved because of his connection with Sophia and because his father worked for the police. In the movie, his father having worked for Scotland Yard is mentioned, but we find out his father had been murdered some years before.
In the book, Sophia is telling him about her family and the “ruthlessness” and says she herself is probably capable of murder, if it was for a really good reason. This causes Charles to wonder if it was her, but never seriously thinks it. In the movie, there is a point when he seems to suspect her, which she is greatly offended by.
There is a random scene in the movie where she sneaks to his place and takes him out to a dance club type place, riding on her motorbike. This scene seemed out of nowhere and unnecessary.
Brenda and Laurence
In both, Aristide meets Brenda when he sees Brenda crying and asks her what’s wrong. She says she can’t sit and talk to him; she would get fired. To which he tells her he owns the place. She tells him she is pregnant and not married, so Aristide marries her and they seem to have a good marriage. And turns out she mistaken about being pregnant. Whether this was a lie all along, or a true mistake is unknown.
In the book, she was his waitress at a restaurant. In the movie, she was a dancer in Las Vegas. This is one of the somewhat bigger changes. In the movie, Aristide was a silent partner with a casino in Las Vegas and was investing money in the “up and coming” entertainment industry. In the book, when he retired from Associated Catering, he didn’t switch to investing in other stuff like he was in the movie. The movie also says that Aristide was working on his memoirs with Laurence. Sophia burns what has been written, because she doesn’t want the world to know everything about her grandfather. In the book there was no memoir.
In the book and movie, Charles finds love letters written to Laurence from Brenda. In the movie it seems like they may have had an affair but is never said directly because we find out that Josephine forged the letters. In the book, the letters were real and Brenda and Laurence really were in love.
The movie also talks about how all the guys in the house had a thing for Brenda when she first arrived. Roger specifically made a pass of some sort, to which he was turned down. This led to him being very over the top in his dislike for Brenda. In the book, it’s never said that all the guys had a crush on Brenda.
In both, Brenda and Laurence are arrested, but then there is the second murder when they aren’t even there. Then of course the ending happens, which frees them.
In both, the Leonides family is odd, each in their unique way. The movie does a good job capturing all these different characters. One of my favorite scenes, is when Charles has dinner with them and this dysfunctional family is barbing each other. Clemency, Roger’s wife, is who I thought was the murderer in the book. In the movie, it’s tough to say who I would have suspected had I watched it not having read the book. They show that Clemency wants to move out and get away from the family, but it seemed even more emphasized in the book. Magda is played by Gillian Anderson and she was fantastic. Very entertaining and over the top. Sophia’s dad, Phillip, wasn’t in too much of the book because he often kept to himself with his books. He had more attitude in the movie. Eustace was also in the movie more, and I enjoyed his scenes.
Edith was a bit more suspicious in the movie and seemed to be around more than in the book. The movie added the fact that Edith had a fatal illness, which adds to why she decides to kill herself and take the blame for the murders. In the book this is never said, so what she does seems even more selfless in a way.
Josephine was a great character in both book and movie. She was so well written, and I enjoyed her interactions with Charles. In the movie, as said, she is a great actress and their scenes where still good, but Irons was lacking at times.
In the book, Josephine often swung on a door, so the way she shows an attempted murder, it to have a block fall on her from the top of the door. In the movie, she has a tree house and “falls” because someone cut the rope. This is something that makes her seem like a psychopath, the fact that she is willing to cause serious injury to herself in order to achieve her goal. She’s also young, so it could be said that she wasn’t fully realizing what she was doing. She was a pretty calculated kid though. Then in both, we later have the poisoned hot chocolate which her Nanny drinks and dies.
When she is taken to the hospital for her injury, she has her journal with her. In the movie, she left it home and Edith finds it which is how she learns the truth. She tried to get rid of it, but Charles finds it before it is destroyed. In the book, I don’t remember how Charles gets her journal. Maybe Edith left it with her letters to Charles (one letter for the police, stating that she Edith is the murderer, the other letter telling Charles what really happened). Or maybe it was found in the car when they were found, I’m not sure. In the book though, Charles and Sophia weren’t driving after Edith and didn’t see her drive over the cliff like is shown in the movie. It’s more dramatic having Charles driving after her. It was a really well done scene though, thanks to Glenn Close and Honor Kneafsey.
In the book and movie there is the secret will which leaves most of Aristides fortune to Sophia because she is the only one responsible enough with the money. In the book, this is a big deal for Charles as well because he wants to marry Sophia and, in the end, they do officially get engaged.
In the movie their romance is never fully rekindled, and after the car crash, the movie ends. I don’t mind that we don’t see what happens from there. Maybe they get married, maybe they don’t. Maybe he stays a private eye, maybe he works for the Scotland Yard, who knows.
Why Crooked House
In the book, Sophia refers to her granfathers house as a crooked house. Charles later makes the connection to the nursey rhyme which goes,
There was a crooked man
And he walked a crooked mile
He found crooked sixpence
And a crooked stile
He bought a crooked cat
Which caught a crooked mouse
And they all lived together
In a crooked little house
This is a common theme in Christie books, to have some sort of children’s rhyme in her stories.
Book or Movie
As far as book or movie, I think I would go with the book. I didn’t love the added drama with Charles and Sophia. Honestly though, that and not liking Max Irons are really the only downsides. It is a good adaptation and if you go into it not knowing who the killer is, I think it is a fun watch and would keep you on your toes. I also liked that with some characters they were even more odd or complex than they had been in the novel. Having said that, the characters in the book are very well fleshed out. I don’t know though, maybe I do like the movie better in some ways. Guess this one is a bit of a toss up. Though maybe in the end, I would come back to the book.