Murder on the Orient Express, PBS Masterpiece Mystery!, Sunday, July 11, 9 PM local listings. Starting 7-12, watch this episode online at this link.
Hercule Poirot arrives at Masterpiece Mystery for Series X and the viewer will not be disappointed. David Suchet is back as Poirot, the Belgian detective, and I can imagine no one better in the role. This summer’s Masterpiece Mystery! will feature three new Poirot mysteries based on Agatha Christie Novels: Murder on the Orient Express (July 11), Third Girl(July 18) and Appointment with Death (July 25).
The Orient Express was more than a train – it was an experience. Considered the height of luxury in travel, it was also the turbojet Concorde of its day in that it provided the fastest route from Paris to the East. Agatha Christie and her husband traveled in style all the way to Instanbul, and her trips gave her the background information and details she needed to craft a truly unique murder plot. More a string of luxury sleeping cars, seating cars, couchettes, and dining cars than a regular passenger train, the Orient Express crossed many borders over rail lines owned by a number of companies and nationalities. With so many consortiums and countries involved in its smooth running, one marvels that the train made its destination at all, much less in record time.
In 1929 the train was stalled in a snow storm in Turkey, leaving the passengers stranded for days. Christie based her 1934 murder mystery on that true event, as well as on the 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr., which made the headlines in respectable newspapers and scandal sheets for weeks.
This PBS production of Christie’s famous tale is darker in tone than the famous Sydney Lumet adaptation of the book in 1974, which starred Albert Finney as Poirot. That movie’s ending was more pat and Hollywood in style. There was no doubt that Ratchett, the villain (Richard Widmark), was evil through and through, whereas the villain (Toby Jones) in this PBS production seems to operate more from fear and self-protection.
The ending in this most recent adaptation is strikingly dark and ambivalent; raising questions of justice, ethics, and morality. I confess that it has been so many years since I’ve read this mystery that I cannot recall how faithful this film’s ending is to Agatha’s book.
The actors are once again superb. We do not see Barbara Hershey enough these days, and the fabulous Eileen Atkins makes an unforgettable appearance. Samuel West, David Morrissey, and Hugh Bonneville round out a sterling cast. My major complaint about this production is its length, which was too short to develop the story lines for many of the suspects.