This is a film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel of the same title. This book has a lot to teach us about the dysfunctional family dynamics which could potentially lead to suicide. On the face of it, it is yet another of Christie’s ingenious murder mysteries. This time the detective on the case is not Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple but Charles Haywood.
The deceased’s granddaughter, Sophia, sought his help on the suspicion that her grandfather had been murdered and that “the killer might still be in the house”.
The deceased’s sister in law is Edith, a formidable character whose introduction involves using an armed weapon to kill moles which are ruining her beloved garden.
Sophia’s younger sister, and the other granddaughter is Josephine – a precocious, opinionated and ever-present observer and recorder of the comings and goings in the house. She has been largely ignored by her parents, and left to her own devices. We suspect she knows a lot more than she is letting on to the detective.
Sophia’s father, Phillip, is reluctant to ask questions. He gives the detective a prickly reception, and shows a distinct lack of grief for his father’s death.
Both sons, Phillip and Roger, cast aspersions on the deceased’s second wife, Brenda. Not only does she behave like the quintessentially dumb younger wife, but she is 37 years old which means she is younger than the deceased’s children
some out of the ordinary things happen. It turns out the last will and testament was not signed even though witnesses attest to having witnessed the signing themselves, witnesses who would have no vested interest in lying.
suddenly the plot intensifies when someone attempts to kill Josephine. Somewhat prematurely, the widow, Brenda, and her lover, Mr Lawrence are apprehended into custody after a letter which appears to have been written by her , is found in which she mentions her wish that her husband should die.
Lady Edith receives a prognosis that she only has two to three months to live.
Josephine is released from hospital and shortly thereafter her nanny is found murdered by poison in a hot chocolate that had been made for Josephine. Charles questions Josephine intensely, and she lets slip that Brenda and Mr Lawrence were not in fact responsible for her grandfather’s murder. this questioning is witnessed by Edith who takes Josephine out of the house on the pretext of taking her for an ice cream in town. This is against the police instructions that no-one should leave the premises.
Charles and Sophie follow in hot pursuit as Edith drives at a frenzied pace away from the house but not in the direction of the town as remarked by Josephine herself. She drives determinedly into the quarry, and the car explodes much to the horror of Charles, Sophia and the viewers.
This murder-suicide may have been undertaken with the best of intentions but was a sickening illustration of how those who no longer value their own lives, are more likely to think little of taking another’s. When Edith discovered Josephine’s journal, it became clear that Josephine had in fact been the murderer – her grandfather and nanny.
Edit felt she had nothing to lose, and that Josephine had to be stopped before she continued her killing spree. She also could not countenance the scandal that would descend on the family and the terrible life of reform that awaited Josephine, were the truth to be revealed. she therefore took the law into her own hands.
Had Edith taken another path, she may have been able to support Josephine and the family through the dark days of the scandal that would ensue. By pre-empting justice, Josephine quite literally got away with murder. She was only a child but quite clearly precocious enough to know exactly what she was doing.
Paul Kalanithi, the neurosurgeon who died after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, braved his final days with courage because he had a vision of the legacy he wanted to leave for his loved ones, and the world. His example is in stark contrast to Edith’s.
Josephine was the product of neglect. She was so desperate for attention that she was willing to stop at nothing to assume a position of power over those members of the family who made her feel powerless and insignificant. Murder was her ultimate weapon of choice. Morality can only be taught in the context of love and acceptance.