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Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Murder On The Orient Express (2017) is the 2nd film version of the Agatha Christie novel that was first published in 1934. Often referred to as “the most widely read mystery”, it was said to have sold 3 million copies when the previous (1974) film version of the book was released. I wonder with the rise of the digital age whether Ms Christie’s estate will see a similar rise?

The 1974 version that starred an unlikely Albert Finney as Hercules Poirot was a sumptuous affair as I recall (it dates me to say that I remember seeing it with my Father at the old Granada Welling (that is in Kent if anyone asks!). It had an outstanding international cast that included Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Richard Widmark and John Gielgud.  Ingrid Bergman in fact one an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress playing Greta Ohlsson

In the 2017 version starring and directed by our own Richard Branagh (with the most outrageous moustache in his portrayal as Poirot), we have another international cast assembled although to be fair, they are not as prestigious as the previous version. We have Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer and The Force Awakens Daisy Ridley who all do a fine job but somehow they lack the gravitas that the 1974 version had.

Traditionalists will be relieved that the film broadly follows the great detective’s novel plotline although some changes have been made to freshen up the lack of diversity for a modern audience. Gone is the Swedish Greta Ohlsson and in is Pilar Estravados a Latino (Penelope Cruz) whilst Colonel Arbuthnot (the role previously played by Sean Connery) is now a Black ex-Army medical doctor played by Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr.

So, for those not in the know, the film opens as our Belgian detective Poirot is asked to solve a crime of religious theft in Jerusalem, although he seems more concerned about how accurately his boiled eggs have been cooked. Having solved the crime in the Holy Land, Poirot is feeling the pace somewhat and is desperate for a holiday of some kind, but……………………… He is persuaded by an old friend (who just happens to run the Orient Express) to come on-board as it travels from Istanbul to Calais. Whilst on the famous train, Poirot is offered a job to protect the life of Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) a businessmen who is sailing to close to the wind in his affairs but his offer is rejected. Then Ratchett is found dead in his compartment stabbed 12 times and Poirot reluctantly agrees to investigate the case when the Orient Express becomes derailed following an snow avalanche- and so the mystery has to be solved ……………….

If you have seen the earlier film (or several TV versions including the David Suchet one) or read the novel, you will not get anything new from the Branagh adaptation. Branagh though is excellent and whilst he will not get you to forget the Suchet version, he does a clever thing in focusing on Poirot’s OCD tendencies, so you tend to forgive even the incredible moustache he somehow wears. Of the ensemble cast, Daisy Ridley shines out and shows that her film debut in the Star Wars franchise was no mere fluke –the lady can act and sizzle on screen. Michelle Pfeiffer is no Lauren Bacall but Judi Dench, Oliva Coleman and Derek Jacobi keep us all interested and believe in the characters.

Like its 1974 predecessor, Murder on the Orient Express is a joy to the eyes –it may lack the great theme tune that Richard Rodney Bennett gave us before but its photography (Malta, New Zealand and France) is magnificent and if you can see it in the 65mm film gauge version you will be especially impressed.

In the end I enjoyed this version but there is nothing exceptional to see here.