If you grew up with parents or grandparents who had a passion for murder mysteries, you likely spent a lot of time watching David Suchet play the iconic role of Hercule Poirot, and it’s safe to say he left large shoes to fill. Agatha Christie’s much-loved Belgian detective has had a long career, appearing in 33 novels, one play and 50 short stories, not to mention the many reprisals of the character on screen. Perhaps Christie’s most prominent tales is that of Murder on The Orient Express, first published in 1934, which has been once again adapted for the big screen by director Kenneth Branagh.
“However, no one is truly whom they seem as Poirot does what Poirot does best, and unveils the multi-faceted truth of the individuals.”
Hercule Poirot boards the Orient Express in an attempt to take a holiday from his work. He is promised a trip ‘without care, concern or crime’, but as we have come to know in Christie’s works this is not what he gets. Poirot finds himself amidst an interesting group of strangers with unique personalities, who all claim to be innocent. However, no one is truly whom they seem as Poirot does what Poirot does best, and unveils the multi-faceted truth of the individuals.
Branagh has a history of adapting classic texts, such as Henry V, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Hamlet, to name a few; so, to hear he would be adapting Murder on the Orient Express came as no shock. With his recent success with films such as Thor and Cinderella, as well as the original exemplary text, it’s safe to say that expectations are high when it comes to this film.
Not only does Branagh take a seat in the director’s chair, he also stars as the infamous investigator himself. With this fresh portrayal of the well-loved character comes a new moustache, whilst not the slick curl we’ve come to associate with the name Poirot it is still an icon in itself. Branagh brings a new twist to the character, with a Poirot who is world-weary and shows weakness in a way that humanises him to the audience. Whilst bringing his own unique style to the character as well as the slight edge of humour that runs through certain scenes, Poirot gives a sense of nostalgia to an audience.
“This modern-day adaptation of a vintage classic updates elements of the original text, changing some of the races as well as challenging some of the beliefs of the era.”
The cast is remarkably comprised of some of Hollywood’s finest; from British acting veterans, Dame Judy Dench and Derek Jacobi, to American stars, Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer, as well as newer names such as Daisy Ridley. Each actor brings life to their characters as only performers of their calibre can. The all-star cast compete for screen time as they are all as important as each other when it comes solving this murder. However, a stand out performance was made by Pfeiffer as her character evolves throughout the prestigious mystery. Her engaging portrayal of the complex character, Mrs Hubbard, leaves the audience torn.
This modern-day adaptation of a vintage classic updates elements of the original text, changing some of the races as well as challenging some of the beliefs of the era. Racism, at the time the film is set, was widely accepted in society; however, Branagh’s adaptation brings this into question by having characters argue that race shouldn’t cause prejudice. Whilst this is only a small part of the film and not prevalent to the story, it is important to challenge social issues within cinema because of the impact it could have on an audience.
This is a visually stunning film thanks to cinematographer Harris Zambarloukos. His use of unusual angles, such as the perspective of looking down from above on the train, gives the audience the unique perspective of seeing things in a new way, perhaps as Poirot would. Unlike the films predecessors, this piece of cinema focusses on more than just the mystery within. The beautiful shots of stunning scenery and settings add to the films depth, benefitting the feature and visually enticing the audience. The film begins in the warm, colourful setting of Istanbul where Poirot closes a case he was hired to assist on. The lighting and colour of this scene give you a clear contrast to the rest of the film. The Orient Express finds itself stopped due to a chance landslide which blocks its passage. The surroundings are covered in snow and ice; cold, white scenery that vastly contrasts to the films beginning, mirroring the change in atmosphere.
Whilst this is not a perfect piece of cinema, leaving the audience wanting more substance from the piece, it is still well worth the watch. Despite the flow of the film ebbing towards the middle, it is brought back by a finale you might not expect, with Poirot questioning more than motive. Branagh’s rendition of Murder on the Orient Express has received varying reviews; however, it earned more in the box office on its opening weekend than the anticipated Thor: Ragnarok, suggesting audiences loved it more than the critics. I count myself among those who enjoyed the film, and would gladly see it again. Hopefully this is not the last time Branagh’s Hercule Poirot graces the screen.