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Much has been written about the new all star production directed and led by Kenneth Branagh, most of it negative. The criticism has generally focussed on the length of the new Murder on the Orient Express, and its flat story development, plodding pace, the prominence of Mr Branagh, and more besides. These criticisms miss completely miss the point of this film version of a great story.
We are used to a certain portrayal of the great Belgium detective, Hercule Poirot, with David Suchet, Albert Finney, and Peter Ustinov all delivering a podgy, sharp witted, physically sluggish, dapper, and self obsessed portrayal. Branagh’s Poirot delivers the famous moustache well enough, but his Poirot fights, runs, is more youthful and slimmer. This Poirot is sharp suited and fleet of foot. He uses his cane not to lean on but to fight with. Kenneth Branagh’s Belgium accent is appalling, but his Poirot is warm and engaging, where his predecessors were fussy and aloof.
It is true the plot is not as precise as that in, say, the Albert Finney version. There is not as much elegance as the Ustinov version. And there is less of the finesse and sophistication of the Suchet interpretation. What the Branagh version of Murder on the Orient Express brings, and his interpretation of the character delivers, is pizazz. It is a glorious, sensuous, luxurious spectacle. It is fun, fast, and energetic. There is less, much less here of the little grey cells, and much more of the flexing of muscles.
The all star cast works well together, sparking off each other. There is, perhaps, a bit too much of Kenneth Branagh on balance, and this comes at the expense of seeing of the other main characters. In a cast comprising Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Jonny Depp, among others this is a shame. Derek Jacobi in particular delivers a very fine performance. Why do we not see more of him on the screen? Like Tom Courtney, Derek Jacobi’s performances are always scene stealing.
This is a film not for the Agatha Christie officiando but for someone who wants to go to the biggest screen they can for an afternoon of good old fashioned fun. The production fills the big screen with its pace and style. This film is one for children and for the young at heart. For those who come to Poirot for the first time or with a fresh mind. My children loved it.
What this film has been suffering from is a certain level of snobbishness, from people who think they know how Poirot should be presented and Christie plots delivered. Kenneth Branagh has delivered a Poirot for the whole family. A Poirot for the 21st Century. It is good, clean, brilliantly delivered fun. Go and see it, and enjoy it.