The little grey cells of moustachioed sleuth Hercule Poirot – and cinema audiences unfamiliar with Agatha Christie’s fiendish 1934 novel – are rigorously tested in Sir Kenneth Branagh’s handsome reimagining of the snowbound murder mystery.
Lovingly shot on 65mm celluloid to capture the splendour of the opulent production design, this beautifully tailored Murder On The Orient Express welcomes a first class passenger list of Oscar winners and nominees from both sides of the Atlantic.
Screenwriter Michael Green couples himself to Christie’s plot, which is precision-engineered to achieve a full head of steam before a satisfying final twist that challenges Poirot’s assertion: “There is right, there is wrong – nothing in between.”
En route, the script adds a fresh prelude at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, which springs the detective’s steel trap mind, and fleshes out bigotry and paranoia in the calm before the Second World War.
A completely new suspect is introduced to rolling stock along with a character from a different Christie case, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, plus a snowdrift near Vinkovci has been amplified – courtesy of slick digital effects – to an avalanche that impacts carriages as they trundle over a viaduct bridge.
Poirot (Branagh) is on holiday in Turkey when he receives an urgent communication to return to London.
Good friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), who is director of business on the Orient Express, secures the wily Belgian a cabin next to slippery gangster Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp).
As the train chugs through the Dinaric Alps, a murderer strikes.
Suspects include Ratchett’s secretary Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad), governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), former soldier Dr Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr), attention-famished widow Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), Princess Natalia Dragomiroff (Dame Judi Dench) and her maid Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman), and missionary Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz).
Murder On The Orient Express harks back to a bygone era of lavish period filmmaking.
Branagh shoots inside a movable locomotive and four carriages, built from scratch to allow his camera to glide in seemingly impossible directions.
He sports impressive facial hair and teases out his protagonist’s inner turmoil, while co-stars perfect inscrutable glares and furrowed brows as they pull the wool over our eyes.
“Vice is where the devil finds his darlings,” sermonises one character.
Satan has plenty of impeccably coiffed fallen angels to choose from here.
:: Murder On The Orient Express is released in cinemas on November 3.