Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” written in 1934, got a contemporary telling under British thespian-actor-director Sir Kenneth Branagh.
The story is about the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who returns to England aboard the Orient Express. On the train, American business tycoon Samuel Ratchett is murdered. The train gets stuck along the way, and Poirot takes that time to find the killer. There are 12 passenger-suspects.
It’s a pithy story to begin with; one of Christie’s best.
Branagh plays the titular character, and makes it the main role. I say this because I remember the first screen adaptation, back in 1974, which was screened in a Singapore movie theatre. I was in my teens, and it was a family outing, obviously.
In that Sidney Lumet-directed film, Poirot (played by Albert Finney) was an unassuming character, compared to this 2017 shining star. Lumet directed the River Phoenix starrer, Running on Empty (1988) and 1976’s Network with Faye Dunaway and William Holden.
Since Finney’s role was downplayed in that telling, the 12 suspects had more time to tell their stories, and shine brighter on screen. Stars included Ingrid Bergman (as Mrs Hubbad) who won an Oscar and Bafta for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and a Bafta for Sir John Gielgud as Best Supporting Actor.
Come 2017, it’s likely Branagh will sweep more awards for a sterling performance, for the strong ensemble had less screen time. They included Johnny Depp as the tycoon Ratchett, Michelle Pfeiffer as Mrs Hubbard, Dame Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff and Willem Dafoe as an undercover PI.
What a shame! It left out the second-guessing for the viewers, who could now only sit back and let a seemingly bloody brilliant Branagh solve the case.
However, it does not mean the movie was bad. No. It is still an engrossing watch, if too skewed towards Poirot as the “probably the best detective in the world”. It made Poirot more like Sherlock Holmes, really.
I can only conclude that Hercule Poirot will soon be the latest franchise on the cinema, and not just Marvel comic heroes.
** Cover pic: L-r, (standing) Olivia Colman as Hildegarde Schmidt, Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, Willem Dafoe as Gerhard Hardman, Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham, Thomas Bateman as Bouc, Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, Derek Jacobi as Edward Henry Masterman, Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot, PenŽlope Cruz as Pilar Estravados, Johnny Depp as Edward Ratchett, Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff (seated left) and Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot (seated right) star in Twentieth Century FoxÕs ÒMurder on the Orient Express. Photo © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox FIlm Corp.