“I’ve never read the novel, but that new movie got me into it. And it’s a really good book!”
While standing in line at a movie theatre I overheard a woman in front of me say this to her friend. She was clutching a copy of Agatha Christie’s iconic novel Murder on the Orient Express under her arm, and discussing the new theatrical adaptation of the book from director Kenneth Branagh.
The film has caused a great number of people to ask “why?” Why make another film when there have already been several other excellent adaptations? This question usually descends into a tirade about how Hollywood has no originality anymore—a completely different issue.
It’s true, Orient Express has graced the screen on three past occasions (albeit only once in theatres in 1974, the other two instances on television), but it’s also a famous book with a well-known twist ending. Christie was often dubbed “The Queen of Mystery,” and Orient Express was one of her majesty’s trickiest puzzles. However, just because it has been adapted before doesn’t mean there’s no reason to make a new film, nor that it will lack originality.
Even though its ending is not a well-kept secret, there are a lot of people who’ve never read the novel and don’t actually know the full story. In fact, there are some who’ve never even heard of it (it was, after all, published in 1934). For those people, including the aforementioned young woman at the theatre, this film is an introduction to the story and a chance to expose a classic piece of literature to a new audience—a younger generation who’ve never read a Christie novel before. And, if they like the film, perhaps it will inspire them to read more of her novels. That’s certainly the case for a friend with whom I viewed the film. She borrowed my tattered old Orient Express paperback before seeing the movie—and enjoyed it. Now, to the delight of a Christie fan like me, she’s hungry for more.
Though fellow fans have likely seen other adaptations of the novel and read it previously, a new film offers a lot to devoted Christie lovers. For those of us that weren’t around when the 1974 version was released in cinemas, Branagh’s movie affords a chance to experience Christie on the big screen—something that just can’t be replicated in your living room.
More importantly, a new adaptation of a beloved novel gives fans a chance to experience a different take on the source material. Different artists will each bring a unique perspective to the same text and can offer viewers something fresh. It’s much like hearing a cover of a favourite song. If you hate the cover, it doesn’t make the original worse, but, if you like it, you might experience and connect with that song in a new way. The chance to look at something you love in a new light and appreciate it like you might not have before is worthwhile. Branagh’s film does this successfully. He stays faithful to the original but makes changes that enhance the story and allows the audience to connect with it in a way they couldn’t with the novel.
And, after the credits rolled, a woman sitting in front of me said to her companion, “Wow! That was so good! I’ve never read the novel so I didn’t know how that was going to end! I really want to read more of her books now.”
Fortunately, viewers intrigued by Branagh’s lavish adaptation of Orient Express will have more to look forward to in the future. Fox has already begun developing a sequel—a new film based on Death on the Nile, another popular Poirot novel—which will hopefully be another worthwhile entry in the Christie canon.
Long live the Queen.