Ken Branagh is rapidly turning in my mind into a combination of Busby Berkeley and Ken Russell, what with the extravaganza of his ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (which I watched last week) and now this week the latest incarnation of Agatha Christie which was the Ken vehicle of 2017.
I wouldn’t have bothered, not being a fan of either Christie or Branagh – but I had heard good reports of this film. Besides, I wanted something to do on a Friday night. So off we went.
As is usual with these things, the cast featured the brightest and best – it was, however, often cast against type with Johnny Depp as a scarred villain, Judi Dench as a spoilt aristocrat and Olivia Coleman as her dour, repressed lady’s companion. Brannagh was pretty good as Poirot; better than David Suchet and throwing all his florid tendencies into portraying a controlled, thoughtful man with OCD. But what really lifted this above the run-of-the-mill was the cinematography; and here I am aware of lacking a vocabulary with which to describe it.
To start with there were crowd scenes; panoramic establishing shots and hurried sweeps through crowded kitchens and railway stations – these scenes basically propel Poirot from hotel room to train carriage – and off they go. The problem with filming these things is that although the train is moving, the location is static; the characters are in a train carriage and there’s nowhere to go. Brannagh solves this problem by going Big: the camera sweeps up and down, going up to the sky to film from above and sweeping under the carriages and bridges like a refugee trying to find a home. In the climactic scene where the train breaks down and the murderer is revealed, the humans are dwarfed surreally not only by the mountains around but by the vast mechanical bulk of the still-steaming engine: there was something in all this that reminded me of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. So all in all, I would say it’s worth seeing and worth going to see, as not much of this would come across on a DVD.