Agatha Christie has sold somewhere in the region of three billion books. Yes, three billion. I’ve not read any.
There have been numerous adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express for the silver and the golden screen. I’ve not seen any.
Yes, I know. I’m embarrassed for myself too. But this is a good thing. I could watch Kenneth Branagh’s version with, almost, a clean slate. My viewing wasn’t tainted, corrupted or influenced by anything I’d seen or read before. All I knew was that there’s a murder on a train and a Belgian detective with a moustache plays his own version of Cluedo to figure out whodunnit.
(Takes a deep breath) Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe and Branagh himself, amongst others, star in what must be the most stellar cast line-up in recent memory, at least until the I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here contestants are announced.
Whilst most of the supporting cast have their fair share of screen time, others are sadly overlooked. Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp and Tom Bateman all shine, but Judi Dench, Olivia Colman and Derek Jacobi are left somewhat in the background. Of course, with such a large cast it’s incredibly difficult to give everyone a fair bite of the cherry, but these three are such good actors it was a shame to see them so underused.
Underused is certainly not the word for Branagh’s Poirot. Virtually in every scene, bar some flashbacks, his interpretation of Christie’s famous sleuth is simply spellbinding. His reassuring presence, dry wit and obsessive quirks, not to mention a thoroughly convincing accent, are quite mesmerising. Whilst Poirot’s success has birthed arrogance, “With murder, there are two who will know. Your God and Hercule Poirot!” Branagh also offers us a more human side as he confides his insecurities to a photograph of a lost love in moments of poignancy. He’s even something of an action hero. Let’s just say that his cane does a little more than simply help him to walk. Branagh is the glue that holds this film together and this is surely a career highlight for him.
Branagh’s longstanding collaboration with composer Patrick Doyle shows no signs of running out of steam as Doyle’s excellent use of piano, strings and percussion combines perfectly with Haris Zambarloukos’ stunning cinematography. Branagh and Zambarloukos previously worked together in 2015 on the spectacularly delightful Cinderella. Whether it’s the majestic beauty of Israel’s The Wailing Wall or the cramped confines of a train carriage, the scenery and music feel like extra characters as we explore nature’s natural glory and the intimate revelations of the melancholic, tragic reasons that are revealed in Poirot’s quest for the truth.
Wonderfully atmospheric, tense and charmingly old fashioned, Murder on the Orient Express looks superb on the big screen as does Poirot himself. I hope this does well at the box office as I quite fancy a trip to Egypt next time…