The latest iteration of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express was released on November 10, 2017, as a film of the same title. It was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also starred as Hercule Poirot. The film preserves the general plot and characters of the original novel; however, there are several significant changes.
While changing character names and ethnicities, adding in a brief, introductory mystery at the beginning of the film, and combining the roles of two characters into one are minor changes that do not affect the plot of the film, this cannot be said about Branagh’s other alterations, which feel wholly unnecessary.
In Christie’s original novel, there is one stabbing – that of Edward Ratchett. However, the film has Mrs. Hubbard, one of the passengers on the Orient Express, get stabbed with the murder weapon as well. She is stabbed in order to confuse Poirot, and thus is unnecessary, as hindering Poirot is the exact function of a considerable amount of the statements made by the passengers. Furthermore, there would have been even less of a reason for the stabbing if Branagh had preserved Christie’s original details linking the murder weapon to Mrs. Hubbard’s sponge bag. Similarly, many of the other clues in the original novel were altered in some way.
Similar to Mrs. Hubbard’s stabbing, there are other instances of unnecessary action or drama in the film. Much unlike Christie’s Poirot, Branagh’s detective has some of the qualities of an action star, which appear in scenes in which Poirot chases a passenger off the train, faces a gun, and knocks someone out with his cane. These actions contradict the original character of Poirot, who is small and relies solely on his intellect and words.
The film very emphasizes the snowdrift trapping the Orient Express, much unlike the novel. While the characters in Christie’s novel only notice the snow when they find that the train has stopped, the film shows an avalanche of snow that nearly crashes down upon the train itself. Unlike the previous changes, the emphasis on the snow does not affect the plot, but is similar in that it is also an instance of unnecessary dramatization.
The final diverge from the novel is arguably the most significant. The film’s Poirot has a large moral issue with presenting the incorrect solution of an assassin being the murderer as the truth; the novel’s Poirot had no qualms with stating that an assassin was the murderer of Ratchett. In Branagh’s film, this moral issue is highly dramatic as well, as Poirot announces to the passengers that he could not possibly live with the injustice of presenting a false solution as the truth. Poirot goes so far as to insist that the passengers will have to shoot him to cover up the truth. Eventually, Poirot decides to use the assassin theory, making the previous dramatics feel very gratuitous.
While Branagh’s small changes are easily overlooked, the significant alterations he makes to the plot of Murder on the Orient Express have a distinct pattern of being overly dramatic and wholly unnecessary.