Sunday, 26 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

The latest iteration of Agatha Christie's Poirot story seemed a good idea after we had visited Bohinj, where Agatha Christie spent at least one holiday. In this new film, Kenneth Branagh does justice to Christie's description of Poirot's moustache (enormous), but for reasons best known to himself also decides to add a tear drop shaped bit of hair below his lower lip, which so distracted one member of our party that she was quite unable to concentrate on the film itself.

I didn't mind that, nor the fact that the Orient Express appears to take a detour through the Himalayas in order to reach Slavonsky Brod, which so far as I know lies in a fairly flat bit of Croatia. I quite liked the hint of deep melancholy with which Kenneth Branagh endows Poirot, although his repeated mooning over the framed photograph of some lost love seemed to me to be a bit clumsy. I would have preferred things less well spelt out, the possibility that it was more a general existential despair that Poirot suffered from, rather than just the memory of some ditzy young woman. I also loved the scenery, especially at the beginning.

However, what I did object to was the propaganda aspect of the film, plus the lack of morality. By propaganda, I mean the little story tacked on at the beginning, in which a Muslim priest, a Rabbi and a Christian priest fall under suspicion of having pinched something in Jerusalem. Of course, it turns out that the white figure of authority, the British policeman, is the culprit. I had the suspicion that, if they could have pinned it on both the policeman and the Christian, the makers of the movie would have been truly content, and I couldn't help wondering if this kind of anti-ourselves, anti-authority, anti-our-own-culture, self-hatred won't strike people in fifty years time as being just as heavy handed and unsophisticated as wartime films featuring clipped voices talking about 'the plucky British' et cetera et cetera do today. I suppose it is okay to add in a story strand about racism and the difficulty a black Englishman faced in advancing through society and becoming a doctor in the 1930s, as Branagh does, but the decision to cast as a member of the Croatian police force in Slavonsky Brod a person of African origin did seem absurd. But I acknowledge that this is probably a sign of my racism, because I ought not to have noticed at all.

As to morality, the wild violent viciousness of the murder as portrayed in the film was disturbing and the idea that the culprits could be exonerated for taking justice into their own hands bothered me quite a lot. To be honest, the whole film descends into melodrama once Poirot has resolved the mystery, with Branagh flouncing about far more than seemed characteristic of the Poirot imagined by Christie.

But never mind, if you can cope with the hair below the lip and the increasingly histrionic air of the whole thing, it is sumptuous to look at and the time passes quickly. Branagh has his own private joke, by the way, which is to have Poirot reading A Tale of Two Cities at regular intervals, each time overcome by laughter at what he presumably sees as the comic aspects of the novel. Hilarious or just weird? Anyway, overall an enjoyable hour or two at the cinema, despite my quibbles.

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