Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Kenneth Branagh’s plush remake of Agatha Christie’s beloved Murder on the Orient Express is hugely entertaining, witty and spritely plotted whodunnit. A starry cast of supporting players might divert but this is Branagh’s film to lose and, thankfully, he doesn’t.

Agatha Christie’s legendary (and self proclaiming) world’s greatest detective Hercules Poirot has been a staple on television and in cinema for years, and is the central figure in some of her most prized novels. Murder on the Orient Express is, without doubt, the most famous of all her novels and has been adapted five times for cinema – including this one.

There’s a lot of guilty pleasures to be had in this opulent retelling which, if box office favours the film abroad (this will struggle in the U.S.), should be the first in a planned franchise of Poirot films. The purists should find favour in the faithful adaptation, the stargazers should find fun in camp convolution of a bevvy of shady pasts and potential motives, and the production swooners will get great delight at how sumptuous it all looks.

When summoned back to London after solving a theft in Jerusalem, Hercules Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) opts in to take the luxury train – the Orient Express – from Istanbul for a 3 day passage to Calais before connecting on to the United Kingdom. No sooner has his first night on board passed than a passenger is found brutally murdered and his services are called on to solve the mystery.

There’s no point in revealing any more than that as it would lessen the experience for those that haven’t encountered the story before. All the players revel in the period drama campery of the ensuing interrogations and, oh what a tangled web it weaves.

Even though the screen is populated with the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, and Derek Jacobi, it is Branagh that has to carry the film. The whole film is hinged around him and the veteran Brit relishes in donning a Belgian accent and faffing around the screen.

It’s not without its moments of misguide – a rather garish reference to the last supper comes off as blatantly indulgent, some of the bit players are very underdeveloped (there are 13 of them in a sub 120 minute film, not everyone can win), and the on-the-nose closing song written by Branagh and sung by Pfeiffer is like listening to cats howl.

Outside of that, Murder on the Orient Express is a guilty pleasure of an entertainment. It moves along at an energetic pace and is a stylishly lush piece of cinema.