Taking the top spot as my all-time favourite British film is Anthony Shaffer’s brilliant, labyrinthine tale of a country house, the Lord of the Manor and the pretender to the throne. Shaffer’s razor-sharp pen guts and cannibalises the pre-war detective genre in much the same way that Wes Craven carved up and then feasted on the slasher movie in the 1990s. Although this is no ghost story or grisly horror, Sleuth’s tongue in cheek approach to costume, design and soundtrack steeps the whole movie in a strange kind of broken-dolly creepiness as the action lurches from quirky, through witty, before descending into something altogether darker.
Based around the simple idea of a staged burglary at a remote manor house, the storyline starts quite conventionally before taking a sharp detour into hidden agendas, psychological torture, humiliation and revenge as the characters are locked together in a battle of wits that has no beginning, no end and no clear rules.
Originally written as a stage play, it’s a testament to Shaffer’s scripting genius that he can hold the viewer’s attention for over two hours while only ever employing a maximum of two characters on screen at any given time. In fact, there are only three live characters in the whole movie, but I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t seen it.