In 1930’s Jerusalem, Kenneth’s Branagh’s Hercule Poirot has a thing about eggs. Measuring each one exactly on his breakfast table, it is clear that his OCD-like behaviour rules every aspect of his life. That said, it is also this exactitude to his life that also makes him the perfect detective. So when an urgent case calls him back to London, Poirot boards the Orient Express for what he imagines to be a leisurely detour from his life of crime. However fate has other plans as the train smoke slowly billows out of the station…
As one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels, ‘Murder on the Orient Express has visited cinemas many times before. Its 1974 Oscar winning version by Sydney Lumet has also long adorned the Christmas TV schedules, making Albert Finney’s portrayal of Poirot the most recognisable incarnation. Thankfully in this regard Kenneth Branagh’s performance as Hercule Poirot takes us down a different route, as indeed both he and the film must.
Leaving Finney’s brusque, Belgian manner at the sidings, Branagh’s Poirot comes across as a less conceited man who is more of a victim of his talent than his ego. With a softer accent and a more accessible sense of play, Branagh’s take is reminiscent of Sir Richard Attenborough, whose performances could channel both impatience and charm whilst hinting at the steel beneath.
... comes with a carriage full of 'A' list acting talent.
As with the 1974 original, this ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ also comes with a carriage full of ‘A’ list acting talent. From Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi and Willem Dafoe to Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Penelope Cruz, every generation here is catered for. In amongst the assembled aristocrats, industrialists, doctors and ne’er do wells, everybody has again both a past and a motive to hide from Poirot’s observations. And yet it’s this familiar set up that also threatens to derail the whole enterprise.
Whilst mercifully unlike Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot colour remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’, Kenneth Branagh’s camera wrings drama and jeopardy from every available scene. And yet instead in its desire to be different (like recent The Amazing Spiderman remake), the mystery of the story-telling has suffered and the claustrophobia of the 1974 version is strangely missing.
That said, like Hercule Poirot’s gravity-defying moustache, there is still much to admire here. As a spirited attempt to breathe new life into an old classic, this is a quality remake that will comfortably take its place in future Christmas TV schedules. More a chocolate box of individual delights, than a banquet to replace the memory of the 1974 original, this express train ride will entertain newcomers and bemuse any returning passengers.0