A new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s highly acclaimed detective novel, “Murder on the Orient Express,” premiered in theaters last week. As the second motion picture adaptation of Christie’s novel, comparisons to the 1974 original come to mind.
“Murder on the Orient Express” tells the story of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who returns to England aboard the Orient Express. While on the train, American business tycoon Samuel Ratchett is murdered. With a storm halting the train’s progression, Poirot must interview 12 possible suspects to find the entrepreneur’s killer.
The 1974 adaptation, directed by Sidney Lumet, presented Christie’s novel in a pleasant and charming aesthetic. With a joyful score by Richard Rodney Bennett and a brightly lit color palette, Lumet was able to present a tale of mystery and deceit with a fun, lighthearted approach.
In comparison to the recent adaptation, directed by lead Kenneth Branagh, the story was presented in a much more contemporary and dramatic fashion. In trade of lightheartedness and charm, Branagh instead incorporated a dramatic score, dark character beats and a variety of action sequences.
In portraying the story’s protagonist Poirot, actor Albert Finney took remarkably different approaches to the character than Branagh. With the 1974 adaptation, Finney played the character as unremarkable and unassuming, a man most people wouldn’t think to be a world-famous detective.
Poirot’s underestimation by the general public played into the 1974 film’s narrative, as several characters found themselves surprised by his detective skills and ability to trump suspects in their statements. Finney’s adaptation of the character was more in-line with Christie’s presentation throughout her series of Poirot stories, with a clever yet realistic method of deduction.
With Branagh’s new adaptation, he not only adapted Christie’s story to the silver screen but also starred as the novel’s protagonist. Here Brannagh placed his own interpretation of the character, wildly different from that presented within Christie novels. Poirot is represented as a far more imposing character by proclaiming, “I’m probably the best detective in the world.”
From stopping capers in exhilarating action sequences to using seemingly unfeasible deduction skills, Branagh interpreted the character more in-line with that of modern adaptations of Sherlock Holmes than Christie’s original intentions with the character. This major alteration in character acted toward the film’s disadvantage as vital information, presented in the 1974 adaptation and crucial to the narrative, was removed from the audience’s knowledge. Instead, it changed to give Poirot seemingly clairvoyant knowledge about details surrounding the murder that the viewer is unaccustomed to.
Furthermore, Brannagh attempted to present the character with a new sense of depth other adaptations seemingly lacked. Poirot is presented with a deceased wife, which acted as a major motivation for his dedication toward solving Ratchett’s killer.
The additional screen time allotted to Poirot in Branagh’s adaptation was at the unfortunate expense of the story’s 12 suspects. While Lumet presented each supporting character with seemingly equal attention, Branagh opted to have Poirot take center stage. This detracted severely toward the narrative as learning about each of the characters various motivations and relations to the murder was essential to the story’s conclusion and omitting this information severely hampered the audience’s investment.
While Branagh brought a new perspective and relevancy to Christie’s classic novel, the director’s choices to substantially deviate from the source material work in the film’s detriment rather than its favor.
Those interested in experiencing the story for the first time, should instead opt for Lumet’s 1974 adaptation.