Agatha Christie was a prolific writer, writing stories that are now seemingly frozen in time. Art Deco properties, a motley group of suspects and a dastardly villain patiently waiting in the drawing room to be accused. Finally, running into burly policemen placed strategically to block their escape.
All very neat tidy and devoid of the moral greys and anti heroes so favoured in modern cinema. Christie’s greatest creation Hercule Poirot, a meticulous, prim Belgian tickling his “little grey cells” to find the culprit, whilst keeping his OCD at bay, before the phrase was even invented.
Hardly a great premise for a reboot, even for the most famous book in the series but clearly director and lead actor Kenneth Branagh knows something…
Armed with an industrial sized mustache, “Hercule Poirot” (Kenneth Branagh), clears up one mystery before taking the slow train home for a rest. The train is luxurious (naturally) and peopled with an eclectic mix of pre-war types, conveniently bridging the social divide.
We have a galaxy of stars filling out the fellow travellers/suspects including, “Miss Mary Debenham” (Daisy Ridley), “Dr Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.), “Pilar Estravdos” (Penélope Cruz), “Gerhard Hardman” (Willem Dafoe) and “Caroline Hubbard” (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Also “Edward Ratchett” (Johnny Depp) and his staff “Hector MacQueen” (Josh Gad), “Edward Henry Masterton” (Derek Jacobi). Finally “Princess Dragomiroff” (Judi Dench) and her retinue “Hildegarde Schmidt” (Olivia Colman).
After a rather stilted and shaky start, involving a confrontation at Jerusalem’s wailing wall (apparently), we finally make it to the train. For those in the know, the ending is not in dispute but for those not familiar with these mysteries, someone is murdered and Hercule has to work out “whodunnit”.
As with many Branagh projects the whole enterprise appears to revolve around the actor/director and this remains true here. Branagh gets most of the dialogue and when you can ignore the preposterous mustache, the stellar cast barely get any time to develop their characters.
There is extensive use of CGI and models to provide the alpine backdrop to the proceedings, sometimes spectacular and occasionally obviously fake. We might surmise the actors got nowhere near actual real snow.
The story does build up a head of steam once the “incident” occurs, albeit the action remains static, perched precariously in danger of a further avalanche.
Branagh is clearly having fun, Depp hardly gets a look in and even the great Judi Dench struggles to make an impression with the stereotypical characters. Although arguably Christie is the author that created these stereotypes in the first place.
A remake arguably nobody was asking for but the film has a certain olde worlde charm and glamour, with enough box office momentum to extend to another film.
If the premise is on the right track for you, there is enough to enjoy but if a stately drawing room mystery is not your bag, then maybe look elsewhere
Spoiler:- It’s NOT Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick