It seems that production on Murder on The Orient Express is picking up steam! News has emerged that Michelle Pfieffer, Daisy Ridley, Michael Pena and Judi Dench are joining the all-star cast of Johnny Depp, Leslie Odom Jr., Tom Bateman, Lucy Boynton, Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh himself on the train journey of a lifetime. This marks the first English-language film adaptation of an Agatha Christie film since 1988's Appointment with Death, although there have been plenty of British TV movies and series since then, most notably Agatha Christie's Poirot which ran for a remarkable twenty-four years.
With so much talent on offer, this film looks to be a treat. But if you think this is some all-star crew, the original Sidney Lumet film starred Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave and Anthony Perkins. Only time will tell if this adaptation can match the original.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of reasons:
Why We Should Get Excited
Agatha Christie was one of my favourite writers growing up. With an unparalleled approach to suspense, combined with a very English sense of characterisation, her novels are compelling enough to be read in a single sitting. A Christie adaptation, more than anything else, is an excuse for filmmakers to have fun with the medium: trying out innovative stylistic techniques and narrative methods.
Additionally, with this kind of genre material, actors can let loose and really indulge in bringing their characters to life. The chamber drama setting — the entirety of the action only takes place on a train — lends itself well to expressive performances. Without any superfluous action to distract us from the acting itself, the performers will have to bring their absolute A-game.
Kenneth Branagh, who made his name directing and starring in Shakespeare adaptations, before branching out into mainstream Hollywood with Thor and Cinderella, has found his perfect project with this film. Here's why:
He's A Master Adapter
Whether its Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing or Cinderella, Kenneth Branagh knows how to honor the source material whilst keeping things fresh. With a Branagh adaptation, whether or not you think its good — the jury is still out on Thor — he keeps the spirit of the characters and those involved. All in all, he has directed eleven films based on existing properties, all the way from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
Additionally, his old-school adaptations are characterised by remarkable attention to period detail, whether its the ornate, gilded halls in Hamlet, to the lovely, billowing costume design in Cinderella. I simply know that with Murder On The Orient Express, he will get the Golden Age of travel exactly right, right down to the last golden teacup.
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He's Also Perfect To Play Poirot
When Kenneth Branagh first burst onto the scene he was touted as the next Laurence Olivier for his excellent performances in Shakespeare. Now, being English, I take the ability to deliver Shakespeare well very seriously. If you can do Shakespeare well, it means you're a seriously good actor. It also means that you know how to adapt your vocal patterns to that of classic literature well, which means that Branagh's ability is transferrable to Christie novels.
As Poirot famously consults those "little grey cells", we know that he is getting ready to give a speech that outlines the specifics of the case and who is to blame. Murder on The Orient Express features one of the most denouements in Christie's ouevre, as the plot twist is revealed. Branagh, with his training in Shakespearean delivery, is perfect to give the concluding speech, and will simply relish the opportunity. Check out his master delivery of Benedick's soliloquy in Much Ado About Nothing:
Like any good narcissist, he knows how to block himself very well. Which leads me to say:
He's A Very Good Director In General
A classical filmmaker in the best sense, his work is characterised by flowing camerawork and an expert handling of crowd scenes. Even in Hamlet, which famously told the entire play, and ran to an epic four hours, he managed to keep things brisk and lively. Arguably a little wasted for mainstream material such as Cinderella and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, material as compelling as Agatha Christie will give him an excellent chance to show off his technical finesse.
He has also directed mystery-thrillers before, most notably the excellent Dead Again, which Roger Ebert gave a glowing review:
"Dead Again will inspire comparisons to Welles and Hitchcock - and the Olivier of Hitchcock's Rebecca."
With the strong comparison to Hitchcock — who adapted Christie with Witness For The Prosecution — its safe to say that Murder On The Orient Express won't go off the rails, instead promising a smooth yet highly enjoyable journey.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter