Retro-review: New on DVD/BluRay from Acorn Media!


Directed by Philip Martin
Written by Agatha Christie (novel), Stewart Harcourt (screenplay)
Starring David Suchet, Tristan Shepherd, Sam Crane, Toby Jones, Brian J. Smith, David Morrissey, Jessica Chastain, Stewart Scudamore, Serge Hazanavicius, Eileen Atkins, Susanne Lothar, Denis Ménochet, Barbara Hershey, Hugh Bonneville, Marie-Josée Croze, Stanley Weber, Elena Satine, Joseph Mawle, Samuel West

I’d like to eventually check out all of the versions of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, having recently gone to the movies with my mom and watching Kenneth Branagh’s version of the film this past week. I find that the iteration of the tale and my liking of it depends greatly on who plays Piorot. In the version made for Masterpiece Theatre a few years ago, Piorot was played by David Suchet and damn, it was a good performance.

When an eccentric detective named Piorot (Suchet) is shuffled on board a train called the Orient Express by an old friend, he finds himself in the middle of a murder case as one of the passengers—the seedy businessman Ratchett (played by Toby Jones), is found murdered in his bunk. Piorot has lined up a dozen passengers as suspects in the murder and is determined to solve the mystery before they get to the train’s next stop.

This version of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is an interesting one to watch after seeing the big budget, super star laden version by Kenneth Branagh. As over the top and boisterous as Branagh’s Piorot is, Divid Suchet is subtle and conservative with his words. Suchet plays Piorot as uncomfortable in the company of these people who turn out to be suspects, disliking the chaos that goes with being trapped in a train car full of strangers. Suchet plays Piorot as a cursed man, less inclined to lecture the passengers, as Branagh does in his version, and more inclined to absorb the horrors that he witnesses and let it chip away at his already fragmented soul. In this film, Suchet prays with a cross wrapped around his wrist for his faith and religion as guidance, unlike the film where Piorot longs for a lover who has passed. The final scenes hit me on a much deeper level as Piorot walks away from this case a broken and distraught man.

This is a Masterpiece Theatre joint, so expect a much more flat and less extravagant presentation of the film. That said, I was impressed at the scenes taking place outside of the train as well as the way the camera moves about the extravagance inside the cabins. The small budget most likely went to getting all of these stars there and less on fancy cameraworkings. Still, the simple and stationary camerawork actually lends to more of a claustrophobic feel—a feeling I believe the story wants to invoke as we are trapped in this train car with all of these suspects.

As with the big budget version of this tale, the story itself adheres pretty close to the structure of Christie’s story. That means that the explanation of who murdered Ratchett and why is explained to us by Piorot having interviewed the passengers. We are made privy to each step here as Piorot gathers his clues and the ties that each passenger has to the victim and allowed to piece together the puzzle of the mystery. It is possible that the big budget version distracted me with the superstars saying the lines, and in this sense, the stars were less abundant and therefore I could pay more attention to the info being dropped. I still think that it is a mistake not showing the crime, shrouded in shadow, at the beginning of the story as I feel much too much is left unsaid involving the murder that lead to the murder of Ratchett in the way the story is structured. Still, this one allowed me to piece together the clues in a much more participatory fashion than Branagh’s film.

Filled with great performances by Jessica Chastain, Toby Moore (who is awesome as the evil Ratchett), Barbara Hershey, Hugh Bonneville, and THE WALKING DEAD’s Governor David Morrissey, AGATHA CHRISTIE’S PIOROT: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is extremely well acted and classier version of the tale that leaves a lot of the big budget extravagance back at the station.