Sleuth 1972 ****

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Anthony Shaffer adapts his own Broadway war-horse to highly entertaining effect in this ingenious two hander, with Laurence Olivier’s country-house owner Andrew Wyke inviting his wife’s lover Milo Tindle (Michael Caine) for a weekend of one-upmanship and games. Wyke suggests that Tindle burgles his house to claim the insurance money, but the younger man senses he’s being set up for revenge. Joseph L Mankiewicz gives the actors free reign. There’s plenty or red herrings, particularly amongst the cast list, and although Caine switched roles for the 2007 Harold Pinter scripted remake, the original is much more fun, showcasing two great actors enjoying a clash of the cinematic titans.

Absolution 1981 ***

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As well as creating Sleuth and The Wicker Man, Tony Shaffer provided a memorable face off between Richard Burton and Billy Connolly in this neglected 1978 thriller. Set in a Catholic boarding school, Burton plays Father Goddard, a priest torn when his favourite pupil Benjamin (Dominic Guard) makes a confession to him. Benjamin claims to have murdered a drifter called Blakey (Connolly) who has set up camp in the school grounds. His confession is false, but proves to be the first move in a deadly game. Anthony Page directs an intense and complex thriller that makes the most of the unusual setting, and features the ingenious plot twists that Shaffer built his considerable reputation on.

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