How Kenneth Branagh Felt About Making Changes To Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express Hercule Poirot

The following story will contain mild spoilers about Kenneth Branagh's new Murder on the Orient Express. You have been warned!

No movie can be a wholly accurate adaptation of any source material. The changes in the medium and narrative formats always necessitate alterations -- sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. This was once again a challenge facing Kenneth Branagh -- a man who has made many, many adaptations -- in the making of his version of Murder On The Orient Express, and he recently told me about some very specific decisions that were made during the creative process, and why he felt a degree of freedom:

I was pleased to find out anecdotally that more people claim they read this book and know what the ending was than reads... 'Oh yeah, what was it?' And then they couldn't remember. I read a lot of crime fiction, and I often forget who did it shortly afterwards - so I like to reread things. You wouldn't be surprised: I like to go back to classic stories.

In Agatha Christie's novel, Poirot is introduced while waiting to catch a train in Syria, being thanked for his incredible detective skills after solving a case, but you don't really see exactly what it was that he was doing in the Middle East. As noted by the star/director, Kenneth Branagh's version of Murder on the Orient Express starts out much differently, showcasing the man in action and classically showing instead of telling. It was the example that Branagh first tossed out when I sat down to talk with him last week during his new movie's press junket in London, England. He told us a specific example from the film when he recalled:

We just were following intuition about... for instance, in Michael Green's hands introducing Poirot in action, in Jerusalem. Seeing him not just merely report what he's doing, but consider, 'Why is he sticking his cane into a hole in the Wailing Wall?' A couple minutes later you find out exactly why, and it starts to make you think, 'Boy, when he's on that train, those passengers are going to have to think twice. That mind works in mysterious ways.'

Ultimately, not a great deal is changed about the mystery at the center of Murder On The Orient Express, but Kenneth Branagh did also note that some of the key players in the story have been changed. For example, the decision was made not to include the hyper talkative Greta Ohlsson, but instead feature Penelope Cruz as Pilar Estravados -- a character actually created by Agatha Christie for her 1939 novel Hercule Poirot's Christmas.

So we were able to do that; changed some characters. Pilar Estravados appears, not Greta Ohlsson, the Swede. And in the hands of Penelope Cruz I think she intrigues in a different way. Same goes for Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, who plays a new character, Biniamino Marquez.

You can watch Kenneth Branagh discuss the alterations made to Murder On The Orient Express by clicking play on the video below. But BE WARNED! If you're not familiar with the Agatha Christie novel, you may want to be careful about SPOILERS, because there is some discussion of the ending not included in this article:

For the most part, Kenneth Branagh's Murder On The Orient Express is a lovingly faithful adaptation of the book, starring an incredible ensemble cast. You'll be able to catch Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Leslie Odom Jr., Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Tom Bateman, Derek Jacobi and more on the big screen this weekend, with the film rolling into theaters tonight at midnight in some areas.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.