Book vs. Movie

Murder On The Orient Express

MS Shilpa

November 1, 2017

Considered one of Agatha Christie’s best mysteries, Murder on the Orient Express was originally published in 1934. It is not only a fabulous treat for mystery lovers, but extraordinary as the often-sidelined theme of justice forms an integral basis of the plot.

Since publication, it has been adapted several times, including the soon to be released movie starring Kenneth Branagh as Poirot. It will be interesting to see not only how the new movie differs from the novel, but also from the widely popular 1974 adaptation. Some adaptations stay slavishly faithful to the book while some take only the central theme of the book and give it a spin that makes the book almost unrecognizable.

This piece focusses on the 1974 movie, directed by Sidney Lumet, which boasts an all-star ensemble cast that includes Sean Connery (Colonel Arbuthnot), Ingrid Bergman (Greta Ohlsson), and Albert Finney (Hercule Poirot)

Like a lot of movies, the opening scene is completely different from that of the book. In the book, Poirot is waiting at the train station to board the Taurus Express, the first train that would take them to the onward connecting Orient Express. The movie, however, begins with the Armstrong baby kidnapping case, newspaper clippings of the events that followed and a sense of foreboding that the plot would have something to do with the Armstrong case. This proves detrimental to the movie as in the book, we do not find out about the Armstrong connection until Poirot starts investigating Ratchett’s murder. This takes away from the careful plot-building and elements of surprise that are trademarks of Christie’s works.

Furthermore, in the movie, Poirot is subsequently shown taking a boat ride to the Istanbul train station to catch the Orient Express. While on this boat, he sees Colonel Arbuthnot and Miss Debenham for the first time and is privy to a private conversation. This change immediately makes one suspicious of the pair, unlike the book where one is equally suspicious of all the parties on the train.

Another big complaint that readers have is the unjust portrayal of Poirot in the movies. Christie’s Poirot is a calm and intelligent gentleman but in the movie, he comes off as a high-strung cartoon character with the makers even getting his moustache (which is an integral part of Poirot) wrong. For Christie, and especially Poirot fans, this is a huge deal as he is one of the most beloved detectives in literary fiction. Christie herself has criticised the moustache, saying, “I wrote that my detective had the finest moustache in England, but he didn’t in the film. I thought that was a pity. Why shouldn’t he have the best moustache?”

In the movie, Mrs. Hubbard constantly talks about her second husband; in the book, her daughter is her chosen subject. This is important as the revenge plot is based on the murder of her granddaughter and the untimely death of her daughter. By making this change in the movie, it is harder for viewers to feel sympathy for the murderers, which comes naturally to readers of the book.

The biggest problem with the movie, however, is how Poirot’s entire deduction and analysis process is skipped as they cannot ‘show’ his thoughts in the movie. Poirot’s mind is a beautiful creature unto itself and reading in detail about the process of his crime-solving is one of the most rewarding experiences of a Poirot mystery, which is completely missing in the movie.

Other than these and a couple of names being changed in the movie, such as M. Bouc being renamed as M. Bianchi, the dead maid who was named Paulette instead of Susanne and Masterman who was renamed Beddoes, the movie doesn’t stray too much from the book’s storyline and is probably one of the better movie adaptations of a Christie book.

Buy the book.

Murder On The Orient Express hits theatres on November 24, 2017.

What did you enjoy more- the book or the movie? Any other differences you’d like to highlight? Share with us in the comments!

Receive articles like this in your inbox. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and get the best of what to read from around the web.

MS Shilpa

MS Shilpa

Shilpa was a content intern at The Curious Reader. She is happiest with a book in one hand and a cup of chai in the other. Her 'books to read' list and 'places to visit' list are constantly at war with each other to emerge as the longest one. She is more interested in the why of people rather than the who. She is currently studying engineering.