Murder on the Orient Express (2017): ‘Performing a Book’ – A Film Review


Kenneth Branagh is a classically trained thespian. Contemporary of Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson and held in high regard for his contributions to cinema. Directing he actually he started with Shakespeare, like the thespian he is; however, he also made versions of classical literature like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. In recent years he has been the unlikely man behind the Marvel film Thor and the Disney film Cinderella. They may be a surprise for the director, but Murder on the Orient Express, a classic murder mystery based upon the Agatha Christie novel and with a focus on dialogue and acting, seems completely on form for Kenneth Branagh. Add in an all-star cast that would make Wes Anderson blush and you seemingly have Kenneth Branagh’s next passion project.




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Kenneth Branagh likes to act in his films and he certainly came to directing through acting, so it is no surprise that he is one of the larger roles of the film – it is almost self-indulgent. But boost this up with Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leslie Odom Jr. and Olivia Colman amongst others and you’d be right to expect a solid film of acting. Despite all the screen time devoted to Kenneth Branagh he does a wonderful job of keeping his character likeable and wise. This largely holds the film together, whilst the other actors manage to avoid fighting for the mic. As much as it may be strange to see Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeifer or Johnny Depp stay brief and to the side of the action, they manage to do so without pouring too much into their moments – though it gets close. Keeping a nice even balance whilst having some wonderfully built characters throughout. They are also blessed with the material, as exposition heavy as it is, it somehow remains factual to the moment in much the same way as a David Fincher film often does.


The look of a Book

All beneath snow and beautiful sky. The cinematography also lends itself to some beautiful colours and well framed moments. Selected uses of Bird’s Eye View shots are well placed and help the advancement of the facts. Despite the well selected moments and impressive look of their features and the train and countrysides, the use of green screens don’t always hit their mark. Murder on the Orient Express is part of a classic storyline and therefore will be familiar with some audiences – a lot like Romeo & Juliet or The Hound of the Baskervilles. If there’s an air of familiarity then it doesn’t get predictable.



For a novel adaptation it is no surprise that there is a lot of dialogue and for a murder mystery there is a fair amount of exposition. Murder on the Orient Express was obviously a book first. But with the devotion to character and the scenery, this is a beautiful film well-acted. Kenneth Branagh holds the centre stage with dignity and imbues the character with a certain amount of charm to hold the story through. We learn with him about the circumstances around him and each character as they reveal themselves. You will rarely find so many stars within a film modestly moving the plot along.


A Note on My Reviews

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews. Any spoilers are appropriately marked and, though I personally prefer to know little about a film before seeing it, there is a synopsis below for any who wish to see one.



Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is one of the best detectives in the world and he finds himself on a train, with a murder, where everyone’s a suspect


Films Mentioned

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (d. Kenneth Branagh USA/UK/Japan 1994)

Cinderella (d. Kenneth Branagh USA/UK 2015)

Murder on the Orient Express (d. Kenneth Branagh USA/Malta 2017)

Thor (d. Kenneth Branagh USA 2011)


Further Reading

Official Site

Interview with Kenneth Branagh

Interview with Johnny Depp

Interview with Willem Dafoe

Interview with Cast

Behind the Scenes

Side by Side with the 1974 version


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This was an analytical review of….


Murder on the Orient Express (d. Kenneth Branagh USA/Malta 2017)

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