First look–Kenneth Branagh and all-star cast bring Christie’s Poirot back to the big screen

Everyone is a suspect.  The clues are everywhere.  For mystery lovers, it’s a staple.  It’s Agatha Christie’s most well-known 1934 novel come to life, Murder on the Orient Express, the fourth major production for film or television of the classic whodunit in the English language–the 1974 Academy Award winning Sidney Lumet film being the best known.  For the older generation the story is known, but for a new generation the stage is set for a big screen version of Clue/Cluedo.  As with the 1974 version, the cast of the 2017 version is extraordinary.

So how do you cast a film against the last generation of film greats?  Leading a bevy of thespian knights and dames, Sir Kenneth Branagh both directs and stars as master detective Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective, played previously by Albert Finney (who refused a knighthood in the year 2000).  Sir Derek Jacobi plays the butler Edward Henry Masterman in a role played by Sir John Gielgud in the earlier version.  Dame Judi Dench plays Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, formerly played by Dame Wendy Hiller.  In an update for the new version, American actor Leslie Odom, Jr. (Supernatural, Gotham) takes on the role of Doctor (formerly Colonel) Arbuthnott, played previously by Sir Sean Connery.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens star Daisy Ridley as governess Mary Debenham, formerly played by Dame Vanessa Redgrave.

The list of American actors includes a fascinating mix of genre favorites old and new.  Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp takes on the role played before by Richard Widmark as the debonair businessman Edward Ratchett.  Academy Award nominee Michelle Pfeiffer is widow Harriet Hubbard, a role played in the 1974 film by Lauren Bacall.  Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe is Professor Gerhard Hardman, played earlier by Colin Blakely.  Academy Award winner Penélope Cruz plays a newly named character, Pilar Estravados, a missionary, in the part played before by Ingrid Bergman.  Rounding out the cast is Josh Gad (Frozen) as Ratchett’s assistant Hector McQueen (played before by Anthony Perkins), and British TV regular Olivia Colman (Broadchurch, The Night Manager) plays the maid Hildegarde Schmidt (previously played by Rachel Roberts).

Take a look at this first trailer for the new Murder on the Orient Express:

The most difficult adaptation for many anglophiles is the casting of Branagh into the role made so famous for a generation of TV watchers by the BBC’s David Suchet (also known for Harry and the Hendersons, The Bank Job, Doctor Who, A Perfect Murder, Executive Decision, and Iron Eagle).  Suchet played Poirot for nearly 25 years, including a version of Murder on the Orient Express co-starring genre actors Toby Jones (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and Jessica Chastain (The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Crimson Peak).  And don’t expect the music of Imagine Dragons accompanying the trailer to be in the film, but you’ll find plenty of British fans parodying the trailer with their own modern pop songs this week.

Nominated for four Academy Awards including for director for Henry V, Kenneth Branagh has added to his long list of lead acting roles in his director’s chair helming five other Shakespeare adaptations to the big screen and films like Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Dead Again–and as with Murder on the Orient Express, he also played a leading role in the bulk of the films he has directed.  Branagh has hidden clues to the film in the real world, including trailers and forthcoming interviews with cast.  Check out the film’s website for more information.

Look for Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express in theaters November 10, 2017.

C.J. Bunce

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