Photo | Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Agatha Christie has undeniably left her mark on the hearts of mystery lovers and aspiring detectives. Having published over 60 novels, her reputation as the “Queen of Crime” is well-earned, especially with critically acclaimed books such as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Many of her famed novels have also made their way to the screen, including And Then There Were None, and most recently, Murder on the Orient Express. The latter, directed by Sidney Lumet in 1974, was well received by the public and critics alike, earning six nominations at the 47th Academy Awards. However, nearly 50 years later, can Kenneth Branagh and his 2017 adaption of the movie measure up?
Featuring a star-studded cast—including Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, and Willem Dafoe—as well as stunning cinematography, Branagh’s re-adaptation quickly became popular in its preview stages. As a big fan of both Christie and this novel, and having never seen Lumet’s version, I hoped that Branagh’s film would do it justice.
The movie follows a similar structure to the novel, mostly focusing on the aftermath of Ratchett’s (Depp) murder on a train full of colourful characters. Poirot (played by Branagh himself) begins interrogations of these people, and the plot escalates as his evidence begins to culminate towards the shocking end. Though there are cinematic additions to the movie that don’t appear in the novel, Branagh did an excellent job of staying true to what matters within the plot, and the cast does a phenomenal job of portraying that as well. The same moments that had me sitting at the edge of my seat while reading the novel were suspenseful in the film. I was glad that this element of surprise and shock at the core of Christie’s novels lasted through Murder on the Orient Express.
Branagh makes an interesting attempt at deepening Poirot’s character by hinting at a tragic past including lost love—something never mentioned in the novel, and that has no purpose within the film but to characterize the detective. He also makes Poirot obsessed with the “balance” of things, even adding a new scene at the start of the film to showcase him needing perfectly symmetrical eggs for breakfast. By the end, it seems that Branagh’s choice to portray Poirot in this way is set up to juxtapose how the resolution is in fact “imbalanced,” and that he must learn to accept and live with this. Though he does a wonderful job at representing all of Poirot’s little quirks and charms, the project feels like merely an opportunity to cast himself in the lead role. There is no real necessity for a remake of Murder on the Orient Express, especially when it was so well-received the first time.
That being said, Murder on the Orient Express retells Christie’s classic novel in a way that, for those new to the mystery, will be a suspenseful and worthwhile experience. Even for someone who considers the novel to be incomparable to any adaption, seeing such a wonderful cast of characters come to life did do the story, and Christie, a great deal of justice. With hints of a sequel centered around Christie’s Death on the Nile being made at the end, I’m intrigued as to where Branagh will take Hercule Poirot’s story and skills next.