If we already know whodunit, then how does the director of this classic murder mystery novel adaptation keep the suspense alive?
Words: Camille Hogg
It seems that by now, the identity of Agatha Christie’s nefarious killer in Murder on the Orient Express should come as no surprise.
After all, it’s been 80 years since the book was first published in 1934, with many radio, television and cinematic adaptations keeping the tale alive since.
A game of locomotive Cluedo featuring Christie’s most enduring character, the moustache-twirling Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), the tale follows 13 strangers travelling by train on the titular Orient Express.
With a murderer on the loose and the train stranded in a snowstorm, the race is on to catch the killer before they strike again.
And as another remake is set for release on 9th November with an all-star cast including Johnny Depp, Dame Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer and Hamilton superstar Leslie Odom Jr, the suspense is killing us to find out how director Branagh will reinvent a tale where (almost) everyone knows the ending.
Proving that some spoilers can stand the test of time, the plot, at least, was a surprise for some of the film’s cast members: both Pfeiffer (Caroline Hubbard) and Odom Jr (Dr Arbuthnot) both freely admitted they never read the original.
But for those of us who do know the identity of the onboard murderer with a grudge, the key, said Branagh, is not the grand finale, but rather the journey there – with the characters, their hidden pasts and the mutual suspicions, left to boil over in a cramped train cabin.
“I’ll say this, there’s mystery, but there is rage, loss and grief underneath it all,” he said in an interview with The Mirror. “Everyone has a story. We created as much paranoia and suspicion as we could.
“As for the end of the movie, the who and the how and the why become really important. The why gives us great suspense.”
“I wanted you to feel the snow and smell the steam,” he added in a later interview with The Guardian. “I wanted to have all the advantages of classic material and none of the disadvantages of over-familiarity.
“There are not only the questions of who did it, how did they do it, and why, but also the question of what now represents justice. And that issue of what justice is – when concerning crimes born out of revenge – goes quite deep in analysing whether an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth ultimately is a way to order civilised behaviour.”
Also starring: Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe and Penélope Cruz
Running time: 115 mins
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