“Murder on the Orient Express” … was murder!

My good lady and I just went off and indulged ourselves at the Cinema.  We went to see “Murder on the Orient Express”, y’know, the new version directed by Kenneth Branagh.  Short version … I didn’t like it much.

Longer version?  Hold on to your hats, ‘cos here I rants.

THAT was supposed to be POIROT?!?

I had a few problems with Mr Branagh’s portrayal.  Sorry, Kenneth darling.

First off, I was a bit put off by the little splash of beard under his lower lip.  You didn’t misread that, that’s what I said: Poirot had a beard.  Two words that Agatha Christie never put in the same sentence were ‘Poirot” and ‘beard’.   So come on, Kenneth, what were you playing at?

The next little problem?  Those extravagant moustaches.  Right, M Poirot had grandiose moustaches in all the books.  But I don’t recall Ms Christie describing them as running literally from ear to ear, or being quite that bushy.  I had always visualised neat, black chops a la David Suchet or Albert Finney.  My problem with Mr Branagh’s attempt at facial hair? Waaaaaay too untidy! The Poirot we know and love was neat, meticulous and gloriously vain.  He would NEVER put up with reckless, runaway histute appendages like that!  Not to mention the wrong colour.  Christies’s Poirot (and Suchet, and Finney) had jet black hair, facial and otherwise.  We know (Christie wrote it) that he was actually given to use of black hair dye to maintain that jet blackness.  Branagh’s?  A sort of mousy greyish-brown, I suppose.

The other thing that struck the wrong note?  Poirot was way too athletic.  [Tiny spoiler here.]  Christie’s Poirot would never run after a villain, or climb down an improbably rickety-looking wooden trestle bridge, or indulge in fisticuffs.  All of which Branagh had Poirot doing.

Do you know what I think?

I think Mr Branagh watched Suchet on TV, and he must have watched the superb Albert Finney interpretation of Poirot in Sidney Lumet’s brilliant 1974 version of the story.  And he looked, and he looked, and he thought, “Well, how can I follow that?”  Simples.  He played someone else.  That wasn’t Poirot.   Branagh played a body-double, and not a very good one, having a holiday on a train while the real Poirot was solving the Death on the Nile, or something.

How did that train company stay in business?

The train – the famous, fabulous Orient Express – was the star of the 1974 version of the film.  This time around?   It was more like something that would have embarrassed even Thomas the Tank Engine.

I believe I counted exactly four coaches.  Yes, FOUR.

There was a sleeping car, a sitting car, a dining car, and a luggage car.

And it started off with FOURTEEN passengers.

What happened to the other coaches? Couldn’t the producers afford to hire them too?  Where were all the second and third class passengers?  How did Compagnie International des Wagons-Lits make any money off FOURTEEN passengers?  Especially lumbered with a company director who seemed to be intent on drinking all the profit?

Ooops, the film’s credibility just went out the window, I’m afraid.

The anachronistic doctor

Remember Sean Connery’s character from the 1974 film?  He played the stoic, grizzled Scots colonel Arbuthnot.

Who plays Colonel Arbuthnot in this remake?  Well, nobody.

Again the producers may have been short of money, because they took Col Arbuthnot, they took the Greek doctor, Constantine, and they mashed them all up to produce Doctor Arbuthnot.   Well, that saves another salary, doesn’t it?  Anyway, Dr Arbuthnot it is.  But sadly, the producers introduce some problems here, because this tale is set around 1930, when a coloured doctor (and, astonishingly, ex-army sharpshooter) in white society was unlikely enough, and travelling first-class, to boot.  While it is creditable to include actors from minority groups – and Leslie Odom Jr plays the part very well – shoe-horning him into a story like this, set when it is, peopled by snobbish aristos and rich whites as it is, is an anachronism that requires so much explanation in the script that it jars and distracts from the character and his story.  Sorry, but it just didn’t work for me.  Must Do Better.

The Last Supper

There is a scene towards the end that made us laugh out loud, which perhaps was not the intended effect.  You know how Poirot likes to gather all the interested parties somewhere convenient – the library, the dining room, or whatever – while he explains the solution?  Well, in this movie the equivalent scene … I can’t go on without laughing.  Sorry.

If you and see this movie, just watch out for the scene where everyone goes into their Last Supper pose, and I suspect you’ll start laughing too.

Oops, there goes the tension and suspense.

David’s verdict

Not a completely bad effort at a remake of a classic, but not a particularly good one either.  If you want to see a film of “Murder on the Orient Express”, my advice is, stick to the 1974 masterpiece, rather than this inferior and unnecessary remake.

 

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