Murder on the Orient Express


Director Kenneth Branagh

SIDNEY Lumet’s 1974 version is hallowed ground for some, with its eerie Armstrong case opening, it’s slightly overexposed iridescence and spine chilling flashbacks with haunting music. Christmas in the mid-80s wasn’t the same without such.

And given a truly stellar A list cast – Gielgud, Connery, Bergman, Bacall, Widmark, Perkins, and  a sublime Albert Finney, it seems the biggest mystery is perhaps why such a theatre and cinematic luminary as Sir Kenneth Branagh might wish to attempt a remake.

David Suchet is for many the archetypal Poirot – just as Brett is the quintessential l tv Holmes – and his meticulous ways take some beating.

Thankfully, Sir Ken enters into the spirit of this 70mm extravaganza with more machoism than mince, and, perhaps against expectations, is the stand-out character in a curate’s egg of a movie.

Johnny Depp makes a good Ratchett despite some naysayers, Michelle Pfeiffer – ever a pin up for some 80s 20 somethings – makes as good a Mrs Hubbard as Bacall; Josh Gad isn’t quite the same as Anthony Perkins’s  MacQueen but brings a joyful individuality and fresh approach to the part, and Dame Judi is, well, Dame Judi.

Daisy Ridley  - increasingly a substitute Keira K type – is perhaps the most watchable of them all and will be a true A lister in a very short space of time.

The remaining characters are first rate but are somehow a little more invisible - though each are allotted a significant amount of screen time.

As to the plot, well they had to change it to suit those who had seen the ‘74 version and to add a little bit of action for the millennials.

But for purists of the old school, those picking up the book to remind themselves of the story on returning home from the cinema, might be bemused.

While every scene has been recreated faithfully and meticulously, and with a certain savoir-faire,  each set piece has been tweaked sufficiently enough to create a less than meretricious effect.  The culmination of such is that, in terms of reference to the book and the 74 film, it seems a very different screenplay and movie. Little niceties have gone….the reference to Grunwald/Greenwood and my goodness you miss Sean Connery’s Col Arbuthnot, despite Leslie Odom Jr’s bravura performance as ‘Dr’ Arbuthnot. ‘Twelve good men and true..’  And where is Dr Constantine?

It’s a little like seeing the face of a long lost old friend who has undergone plastic surgery.  All the recognisable hallmarks are there but it its questionable as to whether the expense and effort was worth it in the end.

That said, the CGI vistas are almost Lean-like, and Sir Ken makes a likeable and sensitive Poirot….for a time we see the thoughtful, non-caricature like quality of the character – a little like Branagh brought to 96’s virtuoso Hamlet, still his best cinematic outing.

For those familiar with the plot, Branagh’s new incarnation is worth seeing, as are the sumptuous visuals. Patrick Doyle lends the usual auditory mastery with a delicate score which echoes of the ghostly Daisy Armstrong synechdochially. Sir  Ken’s ‘moustaches’ should win a best supporting role.

The final scene looks simply stunning, and roll on a Branagh version of Death on the Nile. The likeable Branagh has further cemented his status as Britain’s – if not the world’s – most intuitive and intelligent actor-director. All the more curious then that someone known for his Poirot-like meticulousness when it comes to classy lit should deviate so much from the original book.

For that reason alone, the sublimely classy ‘74 version will never be bumped off in the minds of some old diehards.