How Different ‘See How They Run’ Was from the Real-life Incident of Dennis O’ Neill?


There’s a famous saying that behind every murder mystery novel, there is always a real murder. Similarly, Agatha Christie’s famous ‘whodunit’ play “The Mousetrap” was inspired by a real-life tragic murder incident involving Dennis O’Neill. Directed by Tom George, the recently released mystery comedy “See How They Run” is a fan fiction based on Agatha Christie’s longest-running play “The Mousetrap” that asks if the writers should really be inspired by reality to write their stories.

“The Mousetrap” first premiered in London’s West End Theatre in 1952 and has since become one of the longest-running plays in the world. The drama, however, is based on a truly tragic event. The terrible 1945 murder case of 12-year-old Dennis O’Neill served as a major source of inspiration for Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap.”

In 1944, Dennis O’Neill, a 12-year-old boy, and his 8-year-old brother Terence were sent to foster care in Newport. The foster parents were into farming and lived in Shropshire. The couple, Reginald and his wife Esther Gough were extremely abusive foster parents who violently oppressed the children. Dennis was probably abused more than Terence was. Finally, six months later, on a sunny afternoon in 1945, Dennis died of cardiac arrest after being brutally tortured by Esther. Terence’s testimony suggested that the Goughs arbitrarily abused the two brothers, which the Goughs both denied. Eventually, the Gough couple were found guilty. While Reginald was sentenced to 6 years in prison for manslaughter, Esther served only six months. Agatha Christie first wrote a 20-minute short radio play, “Three Old Mice,” based on this tragic incident. Later, this play developed into a longer, full-fledged play called “The Mousetrap.”

However, the contrast between reality and the movie “See How They Run” can make for an interesting conversation. The Dennis shown in this film is not the Dennis of real life. We can use Quentin Tarantino’s movie “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” as an example to further the discussion. The murder incident of Sharon Tate’s death in 1969 was a terrible loss for Hollywood, but Tarantino’s movie shows how she emerged from reality and continued to exist in fans’ fantasies. In the film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” such imagination was given a visual portrayal. Similarly, “See How They Run” wasn’t all made up. In this movie, Dennis Corrigan’s brother is killed by the foster family instead of him. Here we see Dennis Corrigan has killed the director and a playwright to put an end to the play as he was offended by Agatha Christie’s representation of his true story.

“See How They Run” is a very convenient film that portrays how viewers’ minds function when they watch a movie or read a book that is based on a genuine story. Viewers frequently criticize movies for not portraying actual reality, yet they overlook the fact that movies are merely representations and not true accounts of events. In Ryan Murphy’s “Dahmer” series, we see how the victims’ families were horrified to see the victims’ gruesome murders because they thought they were being reminded of the tragedy again. However, shouldn’t it be the director’s responsibility to depict reality in order to make us aware of the brutality of the world?

According to “See How They Run,” Dennis was troubled by Agatha Christie’s partly fictional play because it didn’t depict their true experience but rather a mystery thriller that was based on it. In the play’s denouement, it is revealed that Detective Trotter is actually one of the Corrigan brothers who wanted to murder Molly to take revenge. In a very similar way, we see that the actual killer turned out to be one of the Corrigan brothers, Dennis Corrigan, who killed the playwright and director to stop the play. Dennis even attempted to kill Agatha but failed because, after all, she was Agatha Christie, queen of crime thrillers. So, when she confronted Dennis, she told him that she was a writer and no one can tell a writer what to write or what not to write. Thus, the makers of the film portrayed how art and life imitate each other. Agatha was inspired by the murder incident to write her story, and Dennis was inspired by her story to kill people to stop the play. However, the biggest sarcasm in the mystery comedy “See How They Run” is that even if Dennis committed murders to put an end to the play, “The Mousetrap” ended up being one of the longest-running plays in the world.

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Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda
Poulami is an artist and an aspiring screenwriter both by profession and passion. Apart from writing stories, poems and songs, studying cinema is her obsession. She is also a freelance painter yet it is the world of cinema that fascinates her the most.

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