MAK­ING A MURDER

An all-star cast. 65mm cam­eras. The big­gest mous­tache in the world. Ken­neth Branagh is throw­ing ev­ery­thing at his adap­ta­tion of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Ori­ent Ex­press. But can he make the old seem new?

Empire (Australasia) - - On Screen - WORDS IAN FREER

When you think Agatha Christie, what comes to mind? your grandparents’ bookshelf? bad lo­cal ‘the­atre’? Sunday nights on ABC in the 1980s? If so, direc­tor-pro­ducer-star Ken­neth Branagh wants to throw your pre­con­cep­tions on the tracks. Murder On The Ori­ent Ex­press, based on Christie’s land­mark 1934 who­dun­nit, sees Bel­gian de­tec­tive Her­cule Poirot (Branagh) in­ter­ro­gate 13 sus­pects fol­low­ing the murder of shady Amer­i­can busi­ness­man Samuel Ed­ward Ratch­ett (Johnny Depp) aboard the lux­u­ri­ous train. It’s a story as old as the Alps — Sid­ney Lumet de­liv­ered an okay-ish all-star ver­sion in 1974 — but Branagh is shoot­ing for a vi­sion that is big and bold, feel­ing both classic and con­tem­po­rary. Like Poirot minus his newly ti­tanic ’tache, Em­pire grills Branagh and the cast of 2017 to solve a mys­tery: how do you adapt an 83-year-old page-turner for the IMAX crowd?

Ken­neth Branagh (Her­cule Poirot/direc­tor): Hav­ing played Wal­lan­der, I was so in­ter­ested to play a de­tec­tive who, by con­trast, was happy. His as­so­ci­a­tion with vi­o­lent crime takes its toll, but Poirot has an ab­so­lute de­ter­mi­na­tion to leave that world any time he can, to thrive in his de­light in cake or travel. I get the feel­ing that if he didn’t have to solve an­other crime in his life, he’d be over­joyed.

Willem Dafoe (furtive aca­demic Gerhard Hard­man): As Poirot, Ken drives the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. And as direc­tor, Ken drives the shoot. So the par­al­lel is very close.

Pené­lope Cruz (Span­ish mis­sion­ary Pi­lar Es­trava­dos): To see him go from fic­tion to eal­ity back and forth, a thou­sand times in one day, it’s mind­blow­ing to watch. He was 100 per cent there for you as Poirot, 100 per cent there for you as your direc­tor.

Branagh: I am noth­ing like Poirot. I am the kind of per­son who never guesses the mur­derer un­less they tell me. I am sure Em­pire read­ers were well ahead of me with The Usual

Sus­pects: “He read it all on the fuck­ing board!” I re­mem­ber those re­veal mo­ments as re­ally plea­sur­able, but I am never quicker than the film­mak­ers.

Branagh: At the cen­tre of the story, you needed some­one who you might be­lieve some­one would stoop to murder. So Johnny Depp as Ed­ward Ratch­ett be­comes a help­ful thing in the nar­ra­tive — a star per­son­al­ity. This char­ac­ter is some­one who re­ally cre­ates a lot of space around him. He takes up a lot of oxy­gen.

Josh Gad (pri­vate sec­re­tary Hec­tor Mac­queen): Mac­queen and Ratch­ett’s but­ler Master­man [Derek Ja­cobi] see things that are some­times ques­tion­able and are pro­tec­tors of his im­age. There’s a sense that ev­ery­body on this train knows more than they’re let­ting on.

Clock­wise from left:

Josh Gad as Hec­tor Mac­queen; Ken­neth Branagh fram­ing Leslie Odom Jr (Dr Ar­buth­not) and Michelle Pfeif­fer (Caro­line Hub­bard); Mary Deben­ham (Daisy Ri­d­ley), Hilde­garde Sch­midt (Olivia Col­man) and Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench); Ar­buth­not takes aim; Johnny Depp as Ed­ward Ratch­ett.

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