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Is See How They Run Based On A True Story? Inspirations Explained

The comedy mystery movie is farcical in many ways, but how much of See How They Run is based on a true story? See How They Run is set in the 1950s and seems very self-aware of many of the tropes that it is riffing on. However, while some of these elements are lifted from the pages of detective novels, some elements are slightly more historical in their origins.

See How They Run follows an attempt to adapt a popular play into a movie with the charge being led by a down-on-his-luck American film producer who is visiting London from Hollywood. Predictably, for a murder mystery, people behind the production begin to turn up dead and a detective is called in Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell, Jojo Rabbit) and Police Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan, Little Women) lead the investigation as hijinks and farce ensue.


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The trailer for See How They Run makes it clear that the movie is drawing heavily on the works of writers like Agatha Christie in something between an homage and a parody. However, there might be some more direct connections to mystery writers and real-world parodies that the movie is working to tie in. Here’s a rundown of the inspirations for See How They Run and the true story explained.

What Play Is Being Performed In See How They Run

In the trailers and pre-release information for See How They Run the name of the play being produced seems to be carefully omitted. All posters and billboards for the movie note that it is a “Petula Spencer Production” and “Starring Richard Attenborough,” but strangely does not name the play. However, some detective work makes it clear that the play in question is none other than Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.

The murder mystery by the Queen of Crime was first performed at the Theater Royal in Nottingham in October 1952, but by November of the same year it made its way to the West End at London’s Ambassadors Theater. In the opening shot of the See How They Run trailer, the play is clearly being performed at the Ambassadors Theater, and the title of See How They Run pays homage to The Mousetrap as well. At one moment in the original play, the character of Mollie Ralston sings the children’s nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice, which includes the line.

While it’s not clear why See How They Run is cagey about the name of the play being performed, it is possible that there was a rights issue, or simply that they did not want to be thought to just be doing a production of the play itself. The Mousetrap is the most iconic stage production of a murder mystery of the twentieth (and twenty-first) century. It holds the record for the longest-running West End show in history, having been in constant performance from its debut in 1952 through to a brief hiatus in 2020, with it taking a global pandemic to close the show down. It restarted productions in 2021 and as of 2018 had been performed in the West End over 27,500 times.

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See How They Run’s Richard Attenborough Role Explained

One notable detail included on the posters for The Mousetrap in See How They Run is the fact that it is listed as “Starring Richard Attenborough” and that he plays Detective Sergeant Trotter. This is one more clue to the fact that the play is in fact The Mousetrap, as the character is from the play, and was indeed originated on stage by Richard Attenborough himself (perhaps most widely known for his role as John Hammond in Jurassic Park and brother to renowned nature presenter David Attenborough). Given the accurate timeline and location for the production of The Mousetrap combined with the use of Richard Attenborough as a character, it might be questioned whether See How They Run is based on a true story.

Mostly, See How They Run is not based on a true story. While Richard Attenborough originated the role of Detective Sergeant Trotter in 1952 alongside his wife Sheila Sim who originated the Mollie Ralston role (and also appears in the film, played by Pearl Chanda), the story surrounding the production is fictitious. While it might have seemed poetic for Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap to have a murder mystery baked into its own history, the story is a concoction designed to take advantage of the meta-narratives at work.

The True Story Behind Sam Rockwell’s Inspector Stoppard

Ultimately, See How They Run takes the true story of The Mousetrap’s early production and creates a parody of the genre and the tropes of the era. However, even within that See How They Run makes a fun nod to real history. Sam Rockwell’s character in See How They Run, Inspector Stoppard, appears to be named for a famous parody writer: Tom Stoppard. While the real-life Tom Stoppard is best known for his work on the screenplay for Shakespeare in Love and the Hamlet parody Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, he also penned a work called The Real Inspector Hound, which was a parody of The Mousetrap itself. While See How They Run is not a true story, it takes every opportunity to stop and drop references to the real world in this very self-aware literary parody.

See How They Run is in UK theaters on September 9, and arrives in US theaters on September 16.

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