Murder on the Orient Express

Film and television productions based on the novel by Agatha Christie.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Director Sidney Lumet; writer Paul Dehn; featuring Albert Finney, Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Michael York, Jacqueline Bisset, Anthony Perkins, Wendy Hiller

Murder on the Orient Express (2010)

Director Philip Martin; writers Stewart Harcourt; featuring David Suchet, Toby Jones, Eileen Atkins, Jessica Chastain, David Morrissey, Hugh Bonneville, Barbara Hershey

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Director Kenneth Branagh; writer Michael Green; featuring Branagh, Tom Bateman, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer

Murder on the Orient Express


Murder on the Orient Express scene 2017

Kenneth Branagh both directs and plays Poirot in his film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express.

Different mustache, same old mystery

So what are the reasons for making yet another Murder on the Orient Express? Agatha Christie's famous novel had been adapted a handful of times already, including the glamorous 1974 movie production and the deeply felt televised version of 2010.

Was it thought none of the adaptations had yet been faithful enough to Christie's story or characters and this one could redress the problem? But the 2017 film itself departs from the book as much as, if not more than, any of its major predecessors. Like others, it adheres to the books overall structure and characters, with a few minor revisions.

Or maybe it was thought this picture could build upon past successes and add something new to the canon. But Kenneth Branagh's film is somewhat short on vision, mainly recycling old Poirot and Orient Express tropes.

Or perhaps the American producers just sensed the the public was ready for a new cinematic presentation of one of the world's best-known murder mysteries, preferably with a lot of star power to light up the big screen. If so, they were right, as evidenced by the sterling box office.

The film directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh—backed with such Hollywood lights as Johnny Depp (as the murdered villain), Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, and Michelle Pfeiffer, and such revered English thespians as Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench (the requisite British Dame in every adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express)—was a monster hit.

The biggest complaint from critics has been that Poirot hogs the limelight, leaving too little for the rest of the huge cast to contribute. Like Albert Finney in the 1974 film, Kenneth Branagh doesn't really look like the supposedly egg-shaped little Belgian of Christie's books, but more like Buffalo Bill with his Old West-style mustache.

He seems to hunch over at times to make himself look less imposing. He also carries off some of Poirot's irritating habits, to the point of exaggerating his fussy narcissism into a full-blown obsessive-compulsive disorder.

He does however appear nimble enough to pull off some physical stunts that few preceding Poirots would have been able to perform. Though, the setting is the 1930s, much of the the film reveals a more modern sensibility. For one thing, solving the murder is less cerebral and requires multiple action scenes, including fisticuffs, threatened gun play, and hiking across the top of the train.

Trailer for  2017's popular adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express.

The solution comes more raggedly than usual, with several suspects trying to take the blame upon themselves along the way. And in Poirot's final showdown with the suspects, he neither turns over to the group the decision of what to tell the police nor argues the moral issues with them. Rather he resorts to the old unloaded gun trick to settle the matter of whether the suspects are really killers at heart.

And then Poirot is called off to investigate another death, this time on the Nile in an obvious tease for a sequel—a sequel which is assured after audiences found this Poirot mystery so entertaining.

— Eric