It is always a pleasure for me to watch an Agatha Christie film and Murder on The Orient Express is one of the best. There hasn’t been a new one for some time and so great excitement has accompanied this new release. I wish I had been at the red carpet premiere at The Albert Hall but alas, I live too far away to permit such star struck schmoozing. The murder mystery suspects are played by a truly stellar cast from theatre and film including Judy Dench, Derek Jacobi, Olivia Colman and Michelle Pfieffer. Add interrogation and scrutiny by much loved Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, (played by Branagh) and it should be full steam ahead for box office success.
Michelle Pfieffer has always been a favourite of mine, since I saw her play the chaste Madame de Tourvel in the film Les Liaison Dangereuses back in 1988. On the Orient Express she plays Mrs Caroline Hubbard, a brash American woman looking for another husband. Instead she finds the great detective on board and her plans are somewhat compromised.
The film is indeed a feast for the eyes as the costumes of the era and the setting of the snow-bound train make it wonderfully nostalgic. But Hercule Poirot himself is by no means so predictable, Branagh carefully contrasts his clever mind, (the little grey cells) with an action hero. Right from the opening scene in Istanbul he makes his physical presence felt by capturing the criminal with his well placed walking cane. He has the most enormous moustache and small goatee beard. This takes some getting used to but in the end it doesn’t upstage the film. Hercule eagerly applies himself to analysing the crime and unmasking the criminal. A thoughtful and even loving man, reminiscing over a framed photo of an old flame which is accidentally smashed by the derailing of the train. Branagh said the moustache made him feel like a blood hound, straining forward, sniffing out the clues.
My feeling is that murder mysteries are all about extremes and here we have extreme weather, wealth and wickedness. The mix of passengers is unlikely, they all have something to hide and there is a gruesome history to be discovered. Curiously, we are not allowed to see the discovery of the murdered body straight away. This disappoints me as the body always holds clues for us armchair detectives. It seems a bit mean to let Hercule see it and not us. After this lull, we then roll rapidly to the denouement. The suspects all gather in the tunnel rather than the dining carriage. It’s as gripping as ever, even if you know the solution because there are layers or course, intricate Agatha Christie twists and turns. The suspects must squirm, we watch them lie and then try to convince us that murder might be a good idea after all. Is there ever an acceptable reason for murder? Quite possibly, even Mr Ratchet (Johnny Depp plays the villainous gangster) is running scared when he asks Poirot to be his minder.
The film is just what you want from an Agatha Christie murder mystery, just the right amount of tensions and visual pleasure. I hope it is a great success and another comes along soon. If you want to experience one of my Agatha Christie murder mystery evenings, now is a great time to get on board. Many are set in the 1920′s and you can see how it feels to be part of a murder plot just like Murder on the Orient Express.