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STUDIO: Acorn Media
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
• David Suchet on the Orient Express
• 120 Years with Agatha Christie
• List of Poirot Books
• Cast Filmographies
Strangers on a train?
David Suchet, Toby Jones, Barbara Hershey, Eileen Atkins, Hugh Bonneville
Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot boards the train from Istanbul to London, only to find that murder is traveling as well, and has brought baggage.
Suchet knew it. The director knew that Suchet knew it. But did Suchet know that the director knew that he knew it? Only the director knew.
Perhaps the best known of all Agatha Christie’s Poirot mystery novels, Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted numerous times for film, television, and even a video game. In this most recent version, the man most associated with portraying quirky Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, David Suchet, takes the lead once more. The benchmark for this story is the 1974 film directed by Sidney Lumet, with a star-studded cast that included Ingrid Bergman, who won an Academy Award for her role. Rounding out the cast of that film was Richard Widmark, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Perkins, Lauren Bacall, and Albert Finney as Poirot. Needless to say, any other adaptation has a lot to live up to.
This newer adaptation is lighter on stars, and heavier on religious themes. While the ’74 version stayed closer to the book, this one takes more liberties, incorporating several scenes of faith. The first is a stoning of an adulterous woman in a market in Istanbul. Later, we see Toby Jones’ character fearing for his life and praying before bed, which is intercut with Poirot doing much the same with his rosary beads, which make several more appearances throughout. Why did they do this? I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps it is to play up the ending, where Poirot has to make a difficult moral choice. Wikipedia says that many recent Poirot mystery films starring Suchet had incorporated themes of the detective’s faith, so it was brought over here. Whatever the true reason is, it is an interesting choice that sets this film apart from previous iterations. The stoning scene in particular is an interesting thematic choice that plays into the length of the mystery as well.
The controversial scene where Eileen Atkins actually died during production, but they kept shooting.
The film does a fair job of setting the location, this Orient Express train traveling across the continent from Istanbul to London. When the train is stuck in the snow, we get enough exterior shots to compliment the helplessness of the situations inside and outside the train. The downside is that you don’t quite get a feel for the train’s cars and interior compartments in the detailed way the book or previous film express them. In fact, the rear car where the passengers are quarantined while Poirot investigates the murder on board is shown only in briefest moments. The pieces of the mystery seem to fall into place, rather than putting the audience inside Poirot’s mind as he connects the dots. This is a nitpick, but it as a director’s job to guide a sense of presence, and not just communicate the events unfolding.
If there is an upside to this version, it is David Suchet, who by now has a mastery of portraying Poirot unlike any other actor. His Poirot is effortless, though he is less OCD than in other stories or versions, which takes away from the flavor of Poirot’s distinct detecting style. Toby Jones and Eileen Atkins stand out among the cast for their roles as Ratchett and the Countess Dragomiroff. Barbara Hershey, one of the bigger names here, has little to do as her role has been reduced from its presence in the source material. The disclosure of the true nature of her character, Caroline Hubbard, feels tacked on rather than a true reveal.
There are a few scenes that echo the original film intentionally, especially the steamy, dark, station where the train departs. But while the older film took this chance to introduce each and every character to us with their distinct personalities and histories as they emerged from the smoke, this film gives the cliff’s notes. We get a few moments of key players, but otherwise there are many passengers that we barely get a chance to know over the course of the story. Needless to say, when compared to the 1974 version, this film is a disappointment. But for anyone who is not familiar with Agatha Christie, Poirot, or any version of Murder on the Orient Express, this could be worth a rent as a simple primer to the many wonderful tales that are out there. However it is presented, it’s still a killer story.
“Your name is TOBY!”
Poirot comes in a standard blu-ray case with a slipcover. The main feature is presented in 1080p 16:9 widescreen with DTS-HD Master Audio, this is the best look and sound you can expect from this film. Unfortunately, the look and sound of the film aren’t anything to write home about. The typical look of a PBS Mystery/ BBC drama is a fogged, detail-soft cinematography, which doesn’t lend itself to the crispness of blu-ray that well. And while the audio is DTS-HD, it is a 2.0 channel affair. Also disappointing is that most of the extras listed are just text-based listings of Agatha Christie novels, Cast Filmographies, and a brief write-up about international celebrations of Christie’s 120th birthday.
The shining star of the set is a fun 1080i-presented “David Suchet on the Orient Express” feature which runs 47 minutes. The episode works as a travelogue of Suchet traveling on the restored Orient Express train from Paris to Prague, with a stop in Venice. As an avid traveler who loves the old world charm of traversing a continent by train, I was a sucker for this. Suchet is given the five star treatment, a passenger in the luxury his Poirot would have experienced in the 1930’s. Along the way we also get a history of the Orient Express, from its groundbreaking roots and groundbreaking routes to important moments in both World Wars that the train played, and finally the death and then resurrection of the voyage.