… is a literary conjuror who places her pasteboard personas face downwards and shuffles them with practised cunning … Game after game we could confident that time we will turn up the greeting card with the facial skin of the real murderer, and time after time she defeats us.
If Adam is accurate, however, and the satisfaction of an Christie story comes from its astonishing plotting, then Kenneth Branagh’s new film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express would appear to maintain difficulty.
It could be stretching things to declare that the storyline of Murder on the Orient Exhibit, written by Christie in 1934, is really as familiar as that of Hamlet. Nevertheless, the individuality in this situation of “the true murderer” is part of global ethnical knowledge. Branagh’s film is in the end only the latest in a series of adaptations that include benefit the silver screen (Sidney Lumet’s Oscar-winning 1974 version) and then for Tv set (in 2001 and 2010), as well as for BBC Radio (1992-93).
The plot’s secrets have also been disclosed in other books, films and TV shows with vast popular reach. An bout of Doctor Who in 2008, presenting Christie as a identity, reveals “who did it”. Intriguingly, even Christie herself gave the attentive audience clues as to what occurred on the Orient Exhibit when she revived the type of Hercule Poirot in Credit cards on the Table (1936).
So, while a lot of people may still be unfamiliar with the outcome of Murder on the Orient Exhibit, numerous others will already be educated. Why, then, choose to view Branagh’s film, with its unfolding of any familiar story? Christie’s own everyday approach to narrative secrets in Credit cards on the Table is helpful within freeing us from obsession with storyline and prompting us to look instead for other sources of interest, both thematic and stylistic.
Recent critical methods to Christie’s fiction have explored its constructions of gender, sexuality, class and nation. Studies such as JC Bernthal’s Queering Agatha Christie (2016) have given the work new life, assisting to free it from nostalgic trappings of vicarage and country house. Such revisionism, prompted by current interpersonal issues, is offered not only to scholars but to anyone who adapts Christie.
In Branagh’s film, however, there are few indications the source material from the 1930s has been radically rethought. True, Colonel Arbuthnot is no longer the white English officer of the novel – but instead an African-American doctor. Anywhere else, however, the politics and cultural traditions of Christie’s own period make it through undamaged. Branagh’s Poirot, for example, reasserts a solid masculinity that contrasts with the vulnerability and torment conveyed by David Suchet in the 2010 ITV adaptation.
The new version is in other respects, too, less abrasive than its display screen predecessors. It starts in bright sun light, unlike Lumet’s big-screen version that starts aesthetically and acoustically like film noir. In addition, it avoids the assault of the ITV adaptation, which starts with a woman’s stoning in Istanbul and later shows the villain’s murder in all its goriness.
“Let horizons, d?cors and fashions lull you asleep,” as the Orient Express’s own website puts it. Branagh’s adaptation largely practices the comfortable rhythms of the blissful luxury train that it requires its title. Nostalgia powers this process to Christie’s materials, rather than ruder resources of energy.
Box office returns suggest that Murder on the Orient Express is currently typically the most popular film in the united kingdom. Since it does not rewrite Christie’s storyline, however, or offer significant thematic improvements, what might be the trick of its success?
Here it may be helpful to turn to very early film record and what has been called the “cinema of attractions”. This term refers to a body of motion pictures that offered fascinating or uncommon spectacles, rather than complex experiences. The brand new Murder on the Orient Exhibit should be thought of as a lavishly resourced “attraction” of the kind that is in so doing in a position to enthuse visitors who know in advance whodunnit.
Where the narrative is familiar to them, spectators may instead be diverted by identifying the film’s many celebrities. The camera alights successively on celebrities who include Judi Dench, Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer. You have the pleasure, too, of assessing Branagh aesthetically and dramatically with earlier display editions of Poirot.
“It is an exercise, this, of the mind,” says Poirot in Christie’s book as clues accumulate. People already knowing the solution to the puzzle, however, will find the new film chiefly exercising their sight instead. Where there is mental challenge, it can be to assess the effects of any high-angle interior shot, say, not to work out whose embroidered handkerchief was still left in the useless man’s compartment.
It really is thus not bad manners to provide away the new film’s stylistic features. Branagh has chosen, for example, to use large-format, 65mm stock gives a rich texture. A couple of swooping panoramas and lengthened tracking photos that impart movement, even as the teach is caught in snow. Such visual detailing is not secondary or unimportant, however, but actually necessary to the pleasure of those watching who know who wielded the blade.