4 October 2008 | Igenlode Wordsmith
Very Agatha Christie
This film is beautifully made -- very skilfully adapted from what was apparently a stage play, without heavy reliance on wordy intertitles -- with some gorgeous external photography. If that wasn't a real country-house in the grounds of which they were filming, then it gave a stunningly good impression. It also has a tricksy plot; I won't claim that I guessed the final twist in advance, but subconsciously something must have worked it out, because I found myself thinking about midway through, without knowing why, of the Agatha Christie novel which pivots around *precisely* the same legal quirk as this one... And it plays the same trick on the viewer as a certain notorious Hitchcock film, and with the same excuse (but, I'm afraid, leaving me with the same rather cheated feeling!) As a piece of cinema, the film is very reminiscent of Miss Christie's (almost contemporary) work; the setting in a titled family's country residence, the money troubles as motive, the strained family relationships, the vividly characterised but shallowly-drawn suspects; and along with this, alas, the lack of emotional engagement. This is all surface and no depth, and while it's a skilfully executed surface the story as drawn really relies on manipulating the viewer's sympathies for its effect.
The result is that I felt this picture was a trifle flat up until the end, where it suddenly and effectively turns on the adrenalin by backfooting the audience... a stage which is unfortunately then followed by the actors starting to gesture and gurning wildly in order to telegraph a fraught state of mind. Where the scenario keeps itself cool and understated, it is more effective. From the beginning many of Lady Ware's speeches come across as overwrought when confined to single phrases on title cards -- perhaps in the theatre the actress was able to establish a more effective thread of emotion, but here it seems worked up out of nowhere.
It's only fair to say the "The Ware Case" quite literally gave me nightmares (about being hanged for some crime I hadn't committed!) and thus clearly caught my imagination. As a visual statement and in terms of acting technique it is often very good indeed. But I didn't find it quite the "unexpected gem" that had been advertised, and I found it hard to really care about what happened to any of the characters -- in particular the 'noble wife' wasn't as sympathetic as I suspect she was intended to be.