Agatha Christie: she’s one of the most famous and widely sold authors in history. It’s no wonder that she’s responsible for, perhaps, the greatest murder mystery novel of all time. Murder on the Orient Express seems to have it all: an atmospheric setting, a unique cast of characters and suspects, a top-notch detective, and an ending unlike any other.
Ambitious directors over the decades have latched onto the opportunity to adapt Christie’s magnum opus novel. The most recent came in 2017. Directed by and staring Kenneth Branagh, it added new elements to the story with varying results. With all adaptations, they expand on the original work and, for better or for worst, imbue new depth to the work.
In celebration of the fourth anniversary of Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s masterwork, here are 5 big changes from the book.
Poirot’s Reluctance To Solve The Murder
We’re all human. That, of course, means we all need a vacation every now and then; however, we all expect a bit more character strength on the part of this genius protagonist. In the book, it didn’t take much to sway Poirot to tackle the case, and it was even hinted that he was craving a little drama to spice up what would otherwise be a calm and relaxing train ride.
The movie adaptation showed Poirot flat-out refusing to take the case on the grounds that he “needed” a vacation. We were all made to think back to the cold open when he was ruthlessly sizing up his breakfast eggs. Though Agatha Christie’s Poirot is known for being big on order, it seemed a bit out of character for the detective, who values justice over all, to deny a case for a little extra shuteye.
Monsieur Bouc’s Character
For those who have read Christie’s original work and watched the 2017 adaptation, Monsieur Bouc, director of the Companie Internationale Des Wagon Lits, carried dramatically. In the novel, Bouc was a man of enthusiasm that wholeheartedly supported his train company. When he coincidentally bumped into Hercule Poirot in Istanbul, he did not hesitate to get him a seat on his train despite it already being full.
While that same spirit of friendship was still present in the film version of Monsieur Bouc, his character, played by Tom Bateman, was a lot more of a taboo character; in his introduction, he was headed off with a prostitute, and the banter that occurred between “old friends” suggested that Poirot had served as Bouc’s bail-out in times of recklessness.
The differences continued after the Orient Express became snowed in and the murder was discovered. Book Bouc was far more concise and understanding in his pleading to Poirot to take on the case; however, in the film Bouc actually insulted Poirot’s profession, comparing his work to a “beachside puzzle.” That little remark earned him the momentary ire of the famous detective.
McQueen’s Action Scene
MacQueen, the secretary of Samuel Ratchett, aka the notorious kidnapper Cassetti, differed slightly in tone between the book and film. This difference can best be seen by the interrogations; MacQueen in the film was far more suspicious, in part, because he instigated one of its major action sequences, which did not happen in the book. Perhaps, it was added to give the story a modern flare. Despite its charms, the film probably would have been just fine without the daring chase through the Orient Express. What makes Murder on the Orient Express compelling is its tension and suspense above all.
The Cold Opening
The book wasted no time in establishing Poirot’s reasons for traveling on the Orient Express. The film took a different route; with an Indiana Jones style, it hooked audiences with a cold open of Poirot solving a case in Jerusalem involving a stolen artifact. The sequence offered something that the book lacks–a bit of action and some genius foresight on the detective’s part.
The Big Reveal
Ah, yes…the part that everyone looks forward to—and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express has one of the most compelling in murder-mystery history. The claustrophobia of being trapped in a train car with a murderer aided the book and its previous adaptations. Kenneth Branagh decided to take a different route by giving the entire cast an excuse to leave the train car. With the suspects seated at a table blocking the train tunnel, detective Poirot paced alongside them, as the final pieces of the mystery fell into place. With cold snowy wind blowing and the soft golden light of torches, a new atmosphere was given to the climactic scene.
All adaptations differ in some ways from the book they harken from. Sometimes, the changes redefine parts of the story and, at other times, they are only minor; however, one thing is certain. The book and film are two different works of art connected by a common story. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of Agatha Christie’s novel added new layers and made it more approachable to modern audiences. For that, we can all be grateful.
If you enjoyed reading this article and would like to read more Agatha Christie related things: check out Why Agatha Christie Novels Should Be Taught in School, and Why We Love Agatha Christie, the Queen of Mystery.
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