Murder On The Orient Express
Dir: Kenneth Branagh (12A)
WHAT could be more gloriously Christmassy than an all-star Agatha Christie movie? This one even comes with snow! Not to mention everyone from Johnny Depp to Star Wars’s Daisy Ridley and Dame Judi Dench. It’s a mouth-watering prospect. Like tucking into a massive Christmas pudding stuffed with a dozen other Christmas puddings with a big moustache stuck on top.
That moustache belongs, of course, to detective Hercule Poirot, played by Kenneth Branagh out-acted by his own extraordinary double-layered whiskers. It’s the 1930s when Poirot and his moustaches board the Orient Express bound from Istanbul. When, wouldn’t you know it, a wealthy passenger is stabbed to death in the night. With the train stuck due to an avalanche, Poirot has to solve the case before the body count rises.
Which makes it sound more suspenseful than it is. Murder On The Orient Express has the most infamous ‘reveal’ in whodunit history. Christie purists will note that characters have been slightly tinkered with.
But it’s basically the same story. The main challenge is thus to keep audiences hooked when many will already know the ending. Which is where the cast comes in. You can’t go wrong when you’ve also got Penelope Cruz (‘The Missionary’), Michelle Pfeiffer (‘The Widow’), Derek Jacobi (‘The Butler’) and Olivia Colman (‘The Maid’) on your train. Watching them imbue character, despite minimal lines and dialogue, is a sheer, absorbing joy.
Director Branagh is resistant to merely making this a jolly game of Cluedo on the Hogwarts Express. He’s wrapped his production in the romance of another era — this was shot in 70mm and there is a David Lean’s Dr Zhivago feel to the snowy peaks. Screenwriter Michael Green (Logan, Bladerunner 2049) is more engaged with the soul’s moral fracturing than creating a twinkly festive bauble. His take on Christie is more melancholic than merry and not one you’d rush to rewatch again.
However, spirits lift at the end with the promise of a certain trip down the Nile for the sequel. A star-studded Christie adaptation every Christmas? I’m definitely up for more helpings.