Rope, the story of an egomaniacal upper class New Yorker and his obedient ‘friend’ who host a macabre dinner party with a secret chest containing their recently murdered friend as the centerpiece of the meal, was always my favourite Hitchcock film. It is filmed entirely from one direction in a large apartment studio set (with a theatrical ‘forth wall’ missing) and in 10 minute long takes with hidden cuts to make the action continuous like in the theatre. It is a masterpiece of suspense and captures the inherent tensions and power plays involved in the phenomenon of ‘dinner parties’.
The debut from writer/director Christopher Presswell happily and proudly announces its Hitchcockian influences right from the beginning, as evident from the brilliant Saul Bass title sequence and Hermann-esque score (recorded no less by the Prague philharmonic…). It also openly references TV show Midsomer Murders, ‘70s cult film Abigail’s Party and, of course, the board game Cluedo.
Jack (Andrew Fitch), a smarmy narcissist, is introduced in bed with Vera (Isla Ure), the well-to-do wife of his best friend Frank(Nigel Thomas). In amongst the discussion of their affair Jack reminds her about a dinner party that he is throwing that evening for Frank, their old friend ‘Major Burns’ (Tom Knight) and Inspector Marcus Evans (Dan March). Vera gets up to dress and discovers that she is missing an earing, but leaves Jack in bed. As she leaves we see that Jack has the earing and is has plans to use it to devastating effect later on at his party…
Just as Rope takes place entirely in Brandon and Philip’s 1940s New York apartment, Candlestick plays out almost entirely in Jack’s apartment. The film then plays with the juxtaposition of old and new: Jack plays an old vinyl record on a turntable next to a huge smart TV; two central plot devices revolve around an old 1930s mouthpiece phone and a modern smartphone; war stories and board games are recanted and played in a modern wooden-paneling London high-rise.
The unfolding plot is explicitly predictable (if you are familiar with the references) and the acting has an intentionally stereotypical 1950s-aristocratic-parlour-room theatricality, which at first is jarring but once you accept what the director is doing becomes delightfully camp. There are also some great campy one-liners, such as when Jack replies to David’s complaint of his wife being “irritable” with “What do you expect? You’re irritating!”
Essentially Candlestick is a throwback to the great made-for-TV movies of the 1970s with a 1950s story and a 21st century sensibility. A timeless narrative of tension and betrayal presented with intrigue and style.