Murder on the Orient Express’s book cover (left) and film poster (right).
Having very recently read and loved Murder on the Orient Express, the book was fresh in my mind when I went to see the new film version earlier this week, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Agatha Christie’s iconic detective, Hercule Poirot.
I suppose the first and most important thing to say is that whilst definitely not a perfect adaptation, it was one that I feel was clearly made with deep respect and affection for the source material. Though there has been a definite attempt to add some theatrical flair in a few scenes (no doubt to mix things up a little for those already familiar with the story, and to make the pacing etc. more suited to modern cinema-goers), the integrity of the core story remained very much intact.
I thought Branagh made a great Poirot. I’m sure those already invested in previous Poirot actors may struggle to get over their loyalty, but thankfully I could go into this open-minded. He captures his wise if somewhat pedantic ways well, and manages to bring a lot of warmth and humour to the character without pushing it too far, so we can still take him seriously when we need to. There is a short sequence added to the beginning of the film that sees the world-famous detective wrapping up another case before he boards the Orient Express. I thought it was a clever addition, as it establishes the character’s quirks and methods for those who aren’t yet familiar with him, making the new adaptation accessible for existing and first-time Christie fans alike, before we delve into the proper story. Without spoilers, there’s also a small moment at the end of the film that not only sets up the potential for a sequel, but also serves as a nice little inside joke that will no doubt get a few chuckles from long-standing Christie readers – as it did in my local theatre.
The majority of the film’s ensemble cast, left to right: Olivia Colman, Josh Gad, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Tom Bateman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, Leslie Odom Jr., Penélope Cruz and Johnny Depp.
As for the rest of the cast, it’s an impressive list of well-known actors. Pretty much all do a good job, though it is worth pointing out that the one downside of a large ensemble cast made up almost entirely of huge stars means that some big names get fairly little to actually say and do. Judi Dench and Olivia Colman are both as enigmatic as ever as a grand Russian Princess and her loyal maid, for example, though I found myself wishing we could have seen more of them. Daisy Ridley and Penélope Cruz also both stood out as highlights, but the real scene-stealer for me was Michelle Pfeiffer, who is given a little more time to flesh out her character than some of the others and does a great job of doing so.
Visually, the film is stunning, both in terms of the exterior shots of snowy mountain tops, and with regards to the sense of old-school Hollywood glamour in the design of the costumes and the eponymous train itself. Aesthetically, the film definitely captures the era in which the story was written and set.
Having fallen in love with the book so recently, the film could easily have proven a disappointment, so I’m very glad to say that it didn’t. Perhaps the aforementioned sections of added drama and action will rub a few Christie purists up the wrong way, but for me they were acceptable efforts to shake things up a little and add a fresh spin to what could otherwise have felt like a stale and unnecessary rehashing of a beloved tale. The timeless, cosy-crime vibes, the brilliant twist, and the touches of humour that have seen the book’s popularity endure over the decades were all maintained, and so for me, it’s a conversion to screen that worked overall, and I’d be happy to see Branagh and co. take on more of Christie’s tales. I think the fact that the author’s own great-grandson, who is now head of her estate, has shown a desire to work with the production team again on future adaptations of her work shows that if nothing else, the project was made with love and admiration for the book, which should hopefully please and reassure readers.
Have you seen the new film version of Murder on the Orient Express yet? Did you think it was a successful adaptation?