Directed by George Watkins
Starring Ralph Toppin, Malcolm Drizen, Amanda Blockley and Max Fury
Christmas Film Review by Annie Vincent
Death at Christmas, written and directed by George Watkins, attempts to recreate a murder mystery reminiscent of the classics. Set in an old manor house in the country, on a stormy winter’s night, a group of loosely linked characters meet for a Christmas Eve dinner shortly before ‘murder’ can be heard ringing through the corridors. Unfortunately, the setting is where the similarities with the great murder mystery tales ends.
Why all these characters have come together is the first question the audience ponders. A selection of relatives or friends of either Nigel or Jenny’s; a young couple staying in the inherited house, the character motivations are either weak or completely unexplained. How they all know each other is also a mystery at times, or is revealed at the very end of the film, stumping the audience and their desire to try and follow the mission for justice by the crime-fighting detective ... a traffic officer.
After 10 minutes of meaningless conversation and ad hoc arrivals, all are assembled around the dining table when the lights go out. A few characters head off to recover the light and when the lights come back up again the first dead body is identified, though nobody looks particularly shocked or upset by this.
The script is incredibly artificial and throughout, the lines are delivered stiffly. Very few of the actors really react to the events happening around them, except with cliché gasps or the clamping of hands over mouths. Characterisation is limited: perhaps that is because they have so little to work with? The subtle nuances we expect from characters in a murder mystery are lost and if characters do have secrets, there’s absolutely no hint of them until the big reveal at the end, meaning the audience don’t suspect anybody with any great conviction – the very antithesis of what a murder mystery film should do.
The detective (Fury), whilst a slightly more competent actor than the others, does little to instil any confidence in this story for the audience. His questioning of the suspects is weak (again a script issue) and his performance is either feeble and completely misaligned to the severity of the dialogue and events, or excessive to the point of ridiculousness – look out for him yelling that people ‘murder for less’ when accusing someone of murdering Emma because they didn’t like how well she got on with a man she’d met that evening. And if the clichéd dialogue and performances weren’t stifling enough in this project, keep watching past the initial credits...
It’s disappointing because the film looks promising on opening. Aerial shots are used to track a white car as it travels the windy roads, somewhere in rural England. It is dark and dull and the man in the car is shot from such angles that we get the impression there is more than meets the eye here. The camera work is thoughtful and well-chosen. But, with too many plot holes, a disingenuous script and an impassive cast, Death at Christmas has little to recommend it.