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Blu-ray Review: Murder on the Orient Express – “An elegant and opulent prestige Poirot picture”

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Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk), Murder on the Orient Express sees our Ken assemble and star alongside an all-star cast including Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Penelope Cruz (Vanilla Sky), Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast), Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Carribean), Michelle Pfeiffer (mother!) and Judi Dench (Skyfall).

After foiling a theft at the Wailing Wall, private detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is looking forward to his famous “little grey cells” getting a deserved three-day break from catching jewel thieves while resting on board the most luxurious train in existence: the Orient Express.

However, after a mere forkful of cake and a good chuckle over some Dickens, Poirot is once again called into action when one of the train’s passengers is found murdered. As Hercule works his way through searching the train and interviewing the selection of suspects, the mystery takes unexpected twists and turns as their murky and tragic pasts are brought to light.

Branagh does excellent work as a player-manager. His Poirot manages to feel fresh and worthwhile, even in the unavoidable shadow of David Suchet’s iconic version. This Poirot is still fastidious, meticulous and full of himself: “If it were easy, I would not be famous”, but Branagh provides a more blatant tender humanity and humour, as well as a Hateful Eight moustache and a baddie walloping bit of cane-twirling when cornered.

Directorially, Branagh juggles his exquisite cast masterfully – ensuring the whole ensemble get the scenes, moments, lines and looks to make them shine while keeping the tempo as swift as possible. He also restrains Johnny Depp for his best and least unlikeable recent performance, and cleverly uses the space and place limitations of the train to create some visually bold interrogation scenes.

With follow-up Death on the Nile already greenlit – and very blatantly signposted at the end – Kenneth Branagh has created an incarnation and a franchise that will hopefully keep going for many years, and films.

The Blu-Ray is an impressive package with simple but slick menus and a beautiful encode that provides a sharp rich and colourful representation of the shot-on-65mm film. The DTS HD Master Audio does not always have a tremendous amount of heavy lifting to do – due to the nature of the film – but constantly provides nice subtle immersive surround effects, as well as belting out swells of the score (and the odd avalanche) when required.

There is also a wealth of extras on the disc. “Agatha Christie: An Intimate Portrait” is a mini-doc focussing on the writer, while “Let’s Talk About Hercule Poirot” shifts the spotlight to her most famous creation. “Unusual Suspects” is a three-part piece on the many characters and actors that populate the film, while “The Art of Murder” is a more trad making of. “All Aboard: Filming Murder on the Orient Express” shows the technical manoeuvring required to capture the action in a restrictive environment, while “Music of Murder” focuses on the creation of Patrick Doyle’s (Carlito’s Way) cracking score.

Sixteen minutes of deleted scenes (available to play with and without commentary by Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green) add little of narrative value – hence their exclusion – but offer a fascinating insight into what was initially thought to be required, but became surplus during the edit. An extended bit of Poirot cane play is a hilarious treat, and an alternate title sequence that would have been a real drag is interesting to get to see.

Branagh and Green provide further wonderful insight in their feature-length audio commentary, which rounds out the excellent extras alongside some trailers for the film and a photo gallery. Murder on the Orient Express is an elegant and opulent prestige Poirot picture, and the Blu-Ray provides the thrilling whodunnit with a first-class carriage.

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Murder on the Orient Express is available on Digital Download on 26th February and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray™ and DVD on 5th March, from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

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