Agatha Christie is one of the most influential, prolific and famous crime authors of the 20th Century. Her tightly woven narratives have enthralled wanna-be detectives for almost 100 years. However, what draws readers to her books more than her intricate stories are her instantly recognisable and world-renowned characters. Incarnations of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot have appeared in various mediums since 1928 when Poirot sprung from the page and onto the stage. Now Poirot is back on the theatre circuit in his most famous story, Murder on the Orient Express, though this time encased on the silver screen wearing the face of the Shakespearean actor, Norse god wrangler and all-around renaissance man, Kenneth Branagh.
The Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, boards the Orient Express, a transcontinental train line running from Istanbul to Paris, with a collection of strangers. However, one of them, a two-bit gangster named Edward Ratchett, is murdered, despite trying to get a brief rest bite, Poirot dives headfirst into a case that would shake his beliefs to the core.
Murder on the Orient Express is an opulent drama that is sort of reminiscent of the ITV David Suchet version of the character. The sets are immaculate and everyone in the cast is dressed up to the nines. Essentially it is a great film to look at. It also has a very light touch during the initial set up before the crime is committed, with sparks of humour and gentle drama.
Kenneth Branagh is simply spell binding as Poirot, his moustache is quite frankly ridiculous but there is a light twinkle to Branagh’s portrayal that makes him incredibly watchable. Similarly, Daisy Riddley shines as Mary Debenham, a governess on the way to her next posting, as does Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, who has one of the hardest hitting moments of the whole film. I would argue that some of the cast are underused, like Willem Dafoe, Manuel Garcia Rulfo and Olivia Colman, who turn in fine performances but do not have the time to truly make a mark. But that is due to the scale of the cast, which requires some be placed to one side. Finally, I do have a minor quibble with the other members of the cast: Penelope Cruz, Michele Pfeiffer, and Judi Dench, don’t really give memorable performances, maybe this is because again the cast is too full of big personalities that theirs didn’t really shine through, but quite frankly I just saw these great actors being themselves in period costume rather than actual characters.
The adaptation does a mostly good job of translating a murder mystery to the big screen. The investigation itself is well plotted with great moments that kept me hooked trying to work out who the culprit was. However, in the end the film felt a little rushed and heavy-handed. I would have very happily kept watching the investigation, picking up on clues and allowing time for introspection and contemplation of the clues. I think that is the problem with mysteries, the twists and turns are the best bits and trying to figure out who did it with the detective. When it comes to the end of a mystery, I usually feel a little let down, because there hasn’t been enough time to plant the clues to properly lead to the conclusion. It is the same here and it is a shame because there could have been some scenes taken out and that would have meant more time on the investigation.
Be warned, you must take this review with a grain of salt. I have not read or seen the other versions of Murder on the Orient Express. As such, I was focused on solving a new mystery and was too wrapped up in the investigation to wonder whether it was as well paced or as well acted as other versions. For someone not new to the material they might have a completely different reaction, though that is the great thing about the film, opinions are subjective and everyone can have them.
Despite my biases and the problems I had with the film, all in all I would recommend this version of Murder on the Orient Express. It is an enjoyable film that isn’t really going to do anything other than pass the time and provide a great deal of fun. Murder on the Orient Express has a great look, a wonderful cast and mostly well-plotted murder case and should you be stuck for something to do on a cold November morning, you could do worse things than giving it a go.
You can watch Murder on the Orient Express in cinemas now