Murder on the Orient Express, starring David Suchet, the latest Agatha Christie’s Poirot to hit the TV screen, was my choice for Christmas Day viewing. And I’m glad I watched it, since it was one of the best of all the screen versions of any Christie story. Better, certainly, than the film version of the book starring Albert Finney as Poirot, even though the film is not at all bad.
Why was this version so good? The answer lies in the focus on the precise nature of the motive for the crime and the proper response to it. I guess that most readers of this blog are familiar with the central gimmick, but I’m not going to give it away. However, the key theme of the book – as with And Then There Were None – is the idea of doing justice, and in particular the doing of justice in circumstances where conventional legal systems fail to achieve the ‘right’ result.
This is a powerful, perhaps eternal, issue, one that is apt to crop up in all societies, at all times. And Christie’s willingness to take on such issues, in the context of an elaborately and innovatively plotted classic detective story, is one of the reasons for her enduring success. The screenplay homed in on Poirot’s battle with his conscience, and I thought that Suchet’s performance was superb.
The supporting cast, including Eileen Atkins and David Morrissey, was very strong without being over-burdened by star names. The script by Stewart Harcourt was first class, creating a consistently sinister atmosphere. Anyone expecting an entirely cosy experience from watching this version will have been surprised. But also, I hope, impressed.