Finally, I’ve been able to watch the David Suchet version of Murder on the Orient Express.
Many have said Suchet is the perfect Poirot, and I wholeheartedly agree. Though not the first actor to portray the Belgian detective, he has seemingly channeled the character right out of the pages of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories. Reportedly, he read every story featuring Poirot and painstakingly copied out relevant descriptions and character quirks for his portrayal.
About four years ago, Suchet announced his hope to film all the remaining stories in which Poirot appears. As completion of this feat–and it is no small feat with Poirot appearing in over 60 novels and short stories–neared, I greatly looked forward to what is perhaps Poirot’s most famous story, Murder on the Orient Express.
The original 1974 Murder on the Orient Express is lavish with its all-star cast, including Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman (in an Oscar-winning role), Sean Connery, Sir John Geilgud, and Vanessa Redgrave, among others. However, I never cared for Albert Finney as Poirot. Something about his voice, his mannerisms. It seemed more like a parody than a serious portrayal of Christie’s sleuth.
While it’s true the 1974 version is more faithful to the book, I actually find myself liking the 2010 Suchet version with its minor story changes better. Key to this new version is the question of what is moral, what is right. I suspect most mystery fans are familiar with how this story ends, but here Poirot’s final decision–which solution will he present to the authorities–becomes weighted with questioning one’s faith. As some recent Christie adaptations have been known to change the ending, I truly wondered if that would be the case here. Poirot adamantly insists that justice must be done no matter how deserving of death the victim may be. Can he bring himself to go against everything he believes and stands for?
The casting here is very well-done. They may not be as recognizably famous as their predecessors, but somehow they suit their characters better. And they’ve made some interesting choices here. Notably the German lady’s maid is less regimental and more meek, and the Swedish missionary is far less meek and more challenging in character. The Russian princess, too, is less retiring and frail. For the most part, I liked the changes. Although I do prefer Rachel Roberts portrayal of the German lady’s maid in the 1974 version better.
Perhaps the most notable departure is the missing character. It took me awhile to realize it, but the 2010 version excised one character seemingly throwing off the count. They did make up for it though from an unexpected source.
Overall, I’m pleased with this production of Murder on the Orient Express. I love the depth (or pathos) that they’ve added, and it is reassuring to see that the Poirot series can still churn out an excellent adaptation.
As a side note, there was a version of Murder on the Orient Express filmed in 2001 to disastrous results. Alfred Molina starred as Poirot in this “updated version” with clues like a palm pilot pen and horrors! Poirot using the internet! Don’t waste your time. Stick with the 1974 or 2010 versions.
Another note of interest is that David Suchet first appeared in a Christie adaptation as Inspector Japp in Thirteen at Dinner with Peter Ustinov as Poirot. This was in 1985. Four years later, Suchet starred in the British television series Poirot, which initially featured adaptations of Christie’s short stories and several of Poirot’s early novels. The series also starred Hugh Fraser as Capt. Arthur Hastings, Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon, and Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp up until 2003. The later filmed stories did not feature these characters.