I had mixed feelings about Kenneth Brannagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express (2017), which Mr. Bookwyrm and I watched a few weeks ago. On the one hand, the cinematography is beautiful, and the actors’ performances range from good to excellent. On the other hand, the adaptation departs from the book in several small and one or two significant ways. Some of these I applaud, such as the casting of Leslie Odom as the doctor, but other changes didn’t work for me; I found them either gratuitous or out of character. Specifically, there is more violence (besides the murder) and more action in this adaption than in the book, which I felt was unnecessary. One character is shot, and there’s even a chase scene involving Poirot, which is completely out of character if you’ve read the Poirot books. While Brannagh’s accent was good, his mustache was over the top, and he doesn’t really nail Poirot’s mannerisms and body language the way David Suchet does. Brannagh portrays a bigger, much more physically active Poirot, not the dapper little man described by Christie. That said, his performance overall was pretty good, which is only to be expected from an actor of his talent. Other actors were also a pleasure to watch, particularly Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., and Willem Dafoe. Johnny Depp was also good as the very unpleasant Mr. Ratchett, whose death provides the movie (and book) with its title.
I give this production 3.5 stars. On the whole, I enjoyed it, but I was occasionally distracted or irritated when some scene or characterization didn’t fit my expectations. I know the book well, and have read it four or five times, which of course colors my sense of what makes a “good” adaptation.
Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted twice before, once with Albert Finney and once with David Suchet (the Poirot, in my opinion.) I’ve enjoyed both of those, though neither was perfect. Of them three, I’d recommend the Suchet adaptation as the most faithful to the book, and the Brannagh as the most visually gorgeous.