“Murder on the Orient Express”: Comparing the Book with the Movie

By Abby Wargo
Student Life Editor

I am a real stickler for book-to-movie symmetry. I am an avid reader, which I realize is not the cultural norm, but I also recognize that for most, movies based off of books are the first exposure that someone may have to a book or author. First impressions are everything.

It is with this sentiment, and my own self-interest, that lead me to the movie theater to see “Murder on the Orient Express,” directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, and based off the Agatha Christie novel by the same name.

Perhaps the most important piece of this film working in conjunction with the text is its main character, Hercule Poirot. An eccentric genius, this mustached Austrian detective is the chief character in many of Christie’s novels.

Branagh tried to capture all of Poirot’s quirks, and, for the most part, succeeded. There were scenes that were borrowed from other books to give some context to Poirot, and they worked well.

In the first scene, Poirot sends a child and the hotel staff scrambling to find two perfectly-sized eggs for his breakfast, which is how the audience is introduced to Poirot. It’s not in the book, but it is included in the series elsewhere.

The physical description of Poirot is somewhat skewed, since he is described as a short, round man in the books. Branagh, who played Poirot, has neither of those traits. He did, however, wear an ostentatious mustache that was so outlandish it caricaturized him. This did not fit with his portrayal of Poirot; while he did capture all of his eccentricities, Branagh also took care to humanize him by adding elements of lost love and past trauma into his rather ambiguous back story.

In virtually every other aspect, the movie made great use of the novel as a source text. The star-studded cast did a great job at portraying each different character, and the setting—albeit a little more dangerous-seeming than that in the book— was the same.

The cinematography was able to capture the close-range detail of the set; since everything is happening in close quarters on the train, the camera often took a birds-eye-view so that the audience could see all of the action easier.

My only other qualm that I had with this book-to-movie portrayal was the unnecessary burst of action towards the end of the film. Colonel Arbuthnot, played by Leslie Odom, Jr., gets involved in a shootout with Poirot, and the train at this time is precariously teetering off the tracks over a cliff. This was not included in the book, and I don’t think it necessarily enhanced the plot. If anything, it was confusing, because it was a sudden break from character and didn’t seem realistic. My best guess is that it was included in an attempt to appease moviegoers who were bored of the suspense and wanted a high-action scene.

Overall, this movie satisfied me in comparison to its novel predecessor. Additions that were made to put the events and characters in context were not merely superfluous, they were used to humanize the characters and clear up the story line a little bit for viewers that aren’t familiar with the novel. For non-readers and Christie fans alike, this movie should meet expectations.

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