From Page to Screen: Murder on the Orient Express

 

About the Book: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. Without a shred of doubt, one of his fellow passengers is the murderer. Isolated by the storm, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer among a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again.

Read my review of the book here.

Kenneth BranaghAbout the Film: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Murder on the Orient Express is directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh from a screenplay by Michael Green based on Agatha Christie’s novel. A star-studded cast includes Sir Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, Johnny Depp as Ratchett, Michelle Pfeiffer as Mrs Hubbard along with Penelope Cruz, Dame Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Sir Derek Jacob and others.

More information about the film can be found here.

Book v Film (Spoiler free)

Firstly, I’m going to confess that I’m a fan of the 1974 film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot.  Alongside Finney are a succession of Hollywood big names such as Lauren Bacall and Richard Widmark and some of the cream of British film and theatre, including Sir John Gielgud, Michael York, Vanessa Redgrave and Sean Connery.

However, I’m also a great admirer of Sir Kenneth Branagh’s work, notably his wonderful version of Henry V. In fact, I’m not sure anyone other than him would have tempted me to consider seeing a new version of Murder on the Orient Express.   I was lucky enough to view the film at my local independent cinema, Reading Film Theatre. Its President is none other than Sir Kenneth Branagh. He was brought up in Reading and was a member of the RFT for a time. Those of us attending the film got a bonus in the form of a specially recorded video message from Sir Kenneth about the film and his connections with the RFT. He mentioned that one of the films he remembered seeing there was Dog Day Afternoon, directed by….yes, Sidney Lumet.

The script of this latest version follows fairly closely the plot of the book, although an opening scene has been added which I thought largely superfluous.   Branagh’s Poirot has the keen observational and deductive skills of Agatha Christie’s literary creation but is a tad more energetic. As director, Branagh chooses not to confine the action to inside the stranded train, as in the earlier film version and in the original book.

The passengers on the train represent the same varied collection of characters as in the book, although some character names have been changed and there is a little more diversity in the casting than in the earlier film version. With a large cast of characters, it’s probably impossible to avoid some of them having very little screen time and this was the case here. For instance, poor Olivia Colman got only a few lines and she had to say most of those in German! In terms of performances, Branagh’s stands out. The screenplay added some back story to the character of Hercule Poirot and a little wry humour but retained the essence of the fussy, exacting man of Agatha Christie’s books. Branagh was good at tempering Poirot’s, at times, pompous belief in his own abilities with hints of inner doubt and questioning of the nature of justice. I also really liked Sir Derek Jacobi’s sympathetic portrayal of Ratchett’s valet, Masterman, but then I’m a fan of Sir Derek and he represents that class of actor who can make something powerful on the screen out of very little on the page.

As you might expect from an experienced director like Branagh, the film is well shot, there are expertly handled crowd scenes and some luscious scenery as the train proceeds on its journey. The closing lines attempt to be a clever joke but to anyone familiar with another very famous Agatha Christie mystery come across merely as a goof.

The Verdict

The film respects the book’s ingenious plot and the inventiveness of the solution to the murder of Ratchett.   Although I enjoyed the film, as in so many cases before, I believe the book wins out. However, I’m sure people who have never read the book or are too young to have seen the earlier film version will probably enjoy it. Personally, I’d recommend reading the book and then watching the 1974 film version just to wallow in the glamourous setting, the starry cast and the glorious music of Richard Rodney Bennett.

What do you think? Have you read the book or seen the film?

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6 thoughts on “From Page to Screen: Murder on the Orient Express

  1. I’ve seen the new film and thought it was OK. I reckon Mr Depp would of made a great Poirot. But I’m bound to say that cos I love him as an actor. (In RL he’s a bit of a @#%& lol) Then I saw the 1974 movie shortly after and thought it was far better. Next in line…to read the book! 😊 Great post Cathy 👏

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  2. I decided I couldn’t bear to see it despite my love for the book and for Branagh. But those moustaches made me realise his vision of Poirot was never going to match mine! 😉 Nope, I’ll stick with the earlier version…

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    1. I actually minded the moustache less than I thought I would! My husband has a thing about remakes (can’t see the point of them or abide them usually) but came to see the film with me and actually quite enjoyed it. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it again.

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