A Fresh Take on a 1934 ‘Murder’
A gruesome murder has been committed on a train in the middle of the night. Only 13 occupants of the carriage could have committed the dastardly deed. Was it a) the Russian princess; b) the American widow; c) the English governess; or d) the Hungarian count? Or any of the nine other multinational posh people and their servants rubbing shoulders on the luxury locomotive, snowbound in the middle of Eastern Europe, with a brilliant Belgian detective inconveniently in their midst?
Chances are this sounds familiar. It’s the setup for one of the most famous detective stories in the world: Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel “Murder on the Orient Express,” which has sold millions of copies. It was made into a sumptuous 1974 movie, directed by Sidney Lumet with the starriest of casts (Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman!). It has been adapted for television, stage and radio. There is a Japanese television version and a computer game.
All this meant that Kenneth Branagh, the director and star of the new film version, which opened in the United States on Friday with the starriest of casts (Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench!), had his own mystery to solve. How do you reinvent one of the world’s best-loved whodunits for a new era? Branagh’s solution was to modify, and sometimes entirely change, character and plot details in ways that may dismay purists but that he felt would give the piece a more contemporary resonance.
“There is always the thorny issue of who will know the plot and how can we divert them,” Branagh said in a telephone interview. “We knew we had to get people’s attention for a recalibrated character in Poirot,” Christie’s idiosyncratic Belgian detective.
To that end, Branagh and the scriptwriter, Michael Green, begin the movie with a showdown at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, as the detective solves another mystery. “I wanted to embrace the exotic and worldly side of Christie, to come into the big, hot open skies and find a new Poirot, our ticket for an exotic adventure,” Branagh said.
With an opening that has Poirot tripping up an escaping villain in a positively James Bond-esque manner, Branagh immediately established the detective as a far more dashing man of action than the novel’s small hero “muffled up to the ears of whom nothing was visible but a pink-tipped nose and the two points of an upward curled mustache.”
文／Roslyn Sulcas 譯／陳韻涵