A theatrical whodunit set in London’s West End in the 1950s with a delightful ensemble cast, See How They Run is a comedy drama that draws you along for an entertaining ride rather that setting up a particularly compelling mystery for the viewer to solve as an active participant. Gleefully self-referential with its setting during the initial run of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap and machinations to adapt the play into a movie, it provides light satire of both the theatre and film industries. The ending is structurally foreshadowed without revealling the killer, but having the culprit ultimately reveal themselves unprompted is rarely satisfying. The journey is enjoyable, however, largely due to Mark Chappell’s deftly paced and witty script. Saoirse Ronan stands out as the enthusiastic but inexperienced constable, jumping to conclusions each time a suspect emerges. The cinematography juxtaposes the artificial opulence of the theatre with drab reality of the streets outside, Jamie Ramsey also being responsible for Living‘s recent depiction of period London. Brief split screen cuts are frequently deployed — used stylistically rather than for any narrative purpose — and the sudden changes to the aspect ratio can be jarring, feeling somewhat cartoonish. It is unlikely to be remembered beyond the end of the year, but See How They Run is a droll diversion despite its weaknesses as a whodunit.
In its moving simplicity, Ikiru is probably my favourite of Akira Kurosawa’s films. Adapting the screenplay 70 years later, Kazuo Ishigura has shifted the setting to London but opted to stay in the same 1950s post-war era. In fact the opening credits could deceive one into thinking that Living was made in the 50s, though it subsequently retains only the antiquated aspect ratio. The period makes sense for Nighy’s particular breed of gentleman civil servant, dutifully slowing down progress (“We can keep it here. It can do no harm.”) and distanced from those with whom he lives by a familial inability to communicate. Ikiru’s themes are all on display: the failure of bureacracy, the search for meaning in life, and the revitalising freedom of being faced with one’s mortality. After receiving his diagnosis, Williams’ ruminations are shown as memories bleeding through from black and white into colour, and he finds the liberation of inebriation brings only exhaustion. Aimee Lou Wood translates the charm she displayed on Sex Education to the big screen as Mr Williams’ youthful colleague who serves as the catalyst for his redemptive work. Her guileless affection serves as a counterpoint to Nighy’s measured performance, a chilly exterior swiftly giving way to a melancholic warmth, and the film’s success is tied to these performances. Living is such a slavishly faithful adaptation that it has little insight to add to its source material and yet — since so many people will balk at watching at a 70-year-old Japanese film — I cannot fault the creation of this British facsimile that is undoubtedly more palatable to a modern Western audience and nearly as beautiful in the same quiet simplicity.