This four part BBC radio drama is an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s eponymous 1949 novel, one which on several occasions she claimed to be the favourite amongst her own works.
“There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.”
Plot: With World War II at an end, Charles Hayward is finally free to marry the woman he loves, Sophia Leonides. However, she refuses – the unexplained death of her grandfather, wealthy businessman Aristide Leonides, draws her back to the suffocating environment of her family home. Charles follows, but his arrival coincides with the discovery that Aristide’s death was murder. The ensuing investigation drags Charles into the dark heart of the family, and its deadly secrets and dangers. Even if Charles escapes with his life, will he survive the corrosive effect of the family itself?
Production: This dramatisation, first broadcast in 2008, certainly has an eye-catching cast. Rising star Rory Kinnear appears as Hayward, sounding weirdly like Matthew Macfayden, the conflicted hero aught between helping Scotland Yard and supporting his beloved Sophia, here played with her customary excellence by Anna Maxwell Martin as the hot and cold running, on-off fiance; Judy Parfitt co-stars as the kindly matriarch who really does love everyone too much and ‘Duckface’ Anna Chancellor plays the ‘literal’ drama queen who wants money to put on a show. Philip Davis as Hayward’s family friend and the police investigator, a character not actually as prominent in the original novel (replacing Hayward’s father) none the less, or because precisely because of this, seems to have been given most of the good lines. The crucial role of Josephine, the intelligent would-be sleuth who may hold the key to the whole mystery, is played with drippy-nosed perfection by Grianne Dromgoole, making this most maddeningly conceited of youngsters come truly alive.
Christie’s affection for this book, which apparently was “pure pleasure” to write, stems at least in part from its ‘controversial’ conclusion, which it would be unfair to give away, though it does have quite a lot in common with The Tragedy of Y, one of the quartet of novels by Fred Dannay and Manfred Lee (aka Ellery Queen) originally published as by ‘Barnaby Ross’. As adapted by Joy Wilkinson, this is a cozy, even slightly camp production, with the characters introducing themselves in each episode as apart of the nursery rhyme chant that gives the story its title in a retro style that is certainly in keeping with this very gentile production – indeed, despite the book’s high standing amongst Christie fans (Robert Barnard calls it one of her classic novels), this production can feel strangely antiseptic in its lack of dramatic momentum – all the climaxes seem to occur at one stage removed and so need to be recounted rather than experienced – while this is necessary in part for the plot, there is an inevitable distancing effect which stops us becoming really involved in the crimes and their resolution – which is a shame given the high calibre cast and the repute of the original novel.
Availability: CD or MP3 download from AudioGo.