Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel is a stunning all-star extravaganza featuring the most flamboyant moustache you will ever see. Hercule Poirot (Branagh himself) looks forward to reading Charles Dickens and enjoying three days on the Orient Express ‘without care, concern or crime’. However, to the audience’s pleasure and Poirot’s displeasure, a passenger is murdered on board. Before the train arrives at its destination, the world’s most famous moustachioed detective must solve this cheesy whodunnit and every passenger is a potential suspect.
In remaking one of the most famous and popular murder mystery stories in the world, Branagh has many hoops through which to jump. Agatha Christie’s work is among the most published and read in the world (probably behind only Shakespeare) and her novel Murder on the Orient Express is no exception. Then there is the grand 1974 movie adaptation (also an all-star cast affair) directed by Sidney Lumet and featuring Albert Finney as the eccentric Belgian detective. With two TV adaptations circulating, it is a wonder that not everyone knows the ending already but, as the box office figures suggest, a willing audience still exists.
Branagh’s version, however, is not anchored down by its predecessors and is simply delightful and endearingly nostalgic thanks to a stylish production and a talented cast. The ensemble cast comprises of an exciting mix of great actors: British favourites (Olivia Coleman, Derek Jacobi and Judy Dench), Hollywood movie stars (Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz and Michelle Pfeiffer) and Star Wars heroine Daisy Ridley. Each actor brings their character to life in the fleeting time that they have on screen, but it is Branagh who steals the show as Poirot.
When we are first introduced to Branagh’s Poirot, it is easy to write his performance off as farcical as his accent and moustache almost border the outrageous. However, this is what we are to expect from the detective (David Suchet’s version being the exception), and Branagh truly delivers his performance with this two-tier extraordinariness. He portrays the character as dutifully kind and well-mannered with an empathetic sense of nature and it is this quality that we see Poirot struggle with throughout the film.
Branagh’s dedication to Poirot is found not only in his acting but in his filmmaking. There is a certain level of detail in every scene that can only be described as Poirot-esque and some of the film’s most interesting shots are found when we see Branagh play with the set he has been given. Perhaps the best shot, is the overhead view of the carriage in which Poirot conducts his study of the crime scene which almost plays out as if it were a game a Cluedo. Branagh’s film proves to be more than a simple remake and you can rest easy knowing that you are in good hands. The only thing you have to worry about is if Poirot will ever finish reading A Tale of Two Cities.