I’ve been watching: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

  • There was a lot that was right with this latest rendition of Agatha Christie’s detective classic. For one, you couldn’t have assembled a better cast of talented, accomplished, beautiful actors to pull off this very illustrious cinematic adaptation. The assemblage of such names as Kenneth Branagh, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Olivia Colman and Daisy Ridley in the same cast list is a credit to this movie in itself, and the ministry of all the talents cast succeeded in holding up what I thought was a relatively unexceptional script.
  • It was slightly surreal, at first, seeing someone who isn’t David Suchet playing Hercule Poirot. Suchet has become so intimately associated with the character of Hercule Poirot that it was always going to be a very formidable challenge for any actor who subsequently took on the role. Kenneth Branagh didn’t quite match Suchet, but he certainly gave it a damn good shot, and performed much better in the role than anyone trying to play Poirot after David Suchet could be expected to, so much so that it was easy to forget, while watching Branagh’s Poirot, that David Suchet had played the iconic version of the character, and it wasn’t long into the film that you stopped comparing Branagh to Suchet. There were definitely affectionate nods to Suchet’s Poirot in Branagh’s performance, like in the accent, the personality and the mannerisms, and Branagh’s Poirot was broadly faithful to Suchet’s interpretation of the character, but it would be unfair to say that Branagh merely aped Suchet and didn’t put his own interpetation of the character into his performance.
  • Everything was really visually well done. Sumptuousness is de rigueur for cinematic period drama these days, and in that respect, at least, this film more than delivered its due. The costumes were beautiful, the scenery was exquisite, and touches like the bustling train station in Istanbul were very evocative of the period. More than anything, the Orient Express itself was appropriately decked out, and brought to life the miniature world, isolated from the rest of 1934, in which this story takes place.
  • But the writing. The script was fairly plodding and, at times, dull, held together largely by the collective exceptional talents of the all-star cast. I won’t go as far to say that the film didn’t do the story justice, but the intrigue and pace and irresistible mystery that makes this story of Agatha Christie’s so popular was conspicuously lacking compared to other adaptations I’ve seen, especially compared to the David Suchet version. Maybe it’s just that it didn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, and done better, the point being that for a remake like this to justify its existence—and an admittedly phenomenal all-star cast doesn’t quite do it, unfortunately—it needs either to be better or different. This was neither.

Thoughts on: The Unicorn and the Wasp

A story idea about Agatha Christie and a giant wasp is naturally going to incite scepticism. It just sounds too silly for words. Remarkably, though, this story managed to play out that idea totally convincingly and without a hint of self-conscious irony. Admittedly, the giant wasp was the most problematic aspect of this otherwise fantastic episode (as a giant chicken was in a subsequent story about a historical figure)—some other alien form could surely have been used?—but the story itself was so enjoyable and well executed that the ludicrousness of a giant alien wasp didn’t overtly detract from the quality of the story. The story premise of a murder mystery in a 1920s aristocratic house featuring the investigative team of the Doctor and Agatha Christie was inspired, and was played out onscreen as thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining viewing. Excellent use was made of classic Agatha Christie motifs in tribute to the latter’s stories: the charming setting of a party at an upper class country house, the interrogation of witnesses (who are all lying, of course), the dignified dinner scene in the midst of murders, the scene where the investigator gathers the witnesses and suspects to reveal the murderer…

Agatha Christie was played really well by Fenella Woolgar, who captured the novelist’s character perfectly. It was endearing seeing Christie cope with her insecurities about her works and her personal life, especially when she seemed irritated when the Doctor and Donna kept praising her works. Donna’s intimate conversation with Christie was especially touching. Seeing that side of Donna, caring and compassionate, always brings a smile to my face. The investigative partnership of Christie and the Doctor was excellent: the ultimate detective duo. I also liked how Christie, that paragon of respectable Englishness, was shown to be opening her mind to the weird and wonderful due to the Doctor’s influence, much like Charles Dickens did.

I didn’t have particularly much to say about this episode, just that it was an enjoyable and successful tribute to arguably the greatest crime novelist of them all. That said, there should definitely be a story in which the Doctor meets Arthur Conan-Doyle…

Rating: 8/10.