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Read the Book, Watch the Film (2)

Murder on the Orient Express (2010)

Based on the 1934 detective novel, Murder on the Orient Express, the latest adaptation from 2010, co-produced by ITV Studios and WGBH-TV, starring David Suchet who reprises the role of Hercule Poirot.

The intrigue of the story has been known to generations of readers: Returning from an important case in Palestine, Hercule Poirot boards the Orient Express in Istanbul. The train is unusually crowded for the time of year (a clue that is often overlooked). Poirot secures a berth only with the help of his friend M. Bouc. That night, near Belgrade, at about twenty-three minutes before 1:00 am, Poirot wakes to the sound of a loud noise—somewhat like a wail. It seems to come from the compartment next to his, which is occupied by Mr. Ratchett, a sinister man who is suspicious of his personal safety. When Poirot peeks out his door, he sees the conductor knock on Mr. Ratchett’s door and ask if he is all right. A male voice replies in French “Ce n’est rien. Je me suis trompé”, which means “It’s nothing. I made a mistake”, and the conductor moves on to answer a bell down the passage. Poirot decides to go back to bed, but he is disturbed by the fact that the train is unusually still and his mouth is dry.

As Poirot lies awake, he hears a Mrs. Hubbard ringing the bell urgently. When he then rings the conductor for a bottle of mineral water, he learns that Mrs. Hubbard claimed that someone had been in her compartment. He also learns that the train has stopped due to a snowstorm. Poirot dismisses the conductor and tries to go back to sleep, only to be wakened again by a thump on his door. This time when Poirot gets up and looks out of his compartment, the passage is completely silent, and he sees nothing except the back of a woman in a scarlet kimono retreating down the passage in the distance. The next day he awakens to find that Ratchett is dead, having been stabbed twelve times in his sleep.

This is very well Agatha Christie’s most well-known story. It’s a classic full of mysterious and contradicting clues and circumstances. Some of the stab wounds are very deep, only three are lethal, and some are glancing blows. The evidence points to more than one killer. In this 2010 adaptation, the adaptation is unusual in that the narrative begins with Poirot in the midst of solving his recent case in Palestine (referring back to the case mentioned in the book). While generally faithful to the original story, it has a number of major differences, such as the character of Cyrus Hardman being omitted from the story, with Doctor Constantine (who is changed from a Greek doctor to Mrs. Armstrong’s American obstetrician) taking his place among the “jury”, and Antonio Foscarelli being the lover of the maid (whose name is changed from Susanne to Françoise) as well as being the chauffeur. The evaluation of evidence on Poirot’s part, which constitutes to the most fascinating aspect of the story, remains the same. The adaptation is unusual in that the narrative begins with Poirot in the midst of solving his recent case in Palestine—but it’s rare contrivance quickly justifies. The adaptation in question takes on a religious and moral stance that is unprecedented. Poirot is shown to be turmoiled by the decision to incriminate the murderer(s), as he strokes his rosary repeatedly at the end. It concludes with an emphasis on Poirot’s moral dilemma—against his scruple. This one is extremely well-done and attentive to details. As the series continues, I find an increasing tendency of moral interpretation. In a sense, Poirot is no longer just a shrewd private detective who solves the cases, but is given to a gamut of emotions.

4 Responses

  1. It’s that turmoil that bothered me about this adaptation. While I think Poirot took this case a little more personally than some of his others, there is no evidence of the anger and conflicted emotions in the book. That and I didn’t like the way this adaptation started either, but that’s neither her nor there.

    I thought the acting was superb, I just wish when they made these movies they would leave the storytelling to Agatha Chrsitie and not add in emotions that she never intended to be there.

  2. This is the one I should read them…. I have still not read an Agatha Christie.

  3. I can’t believe I have never read this book or seen any of the film adaptations. I’ve got to get this on my list to read. Your description/review makes me want to read this!

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