I have been a fan of Agatha Christie since grade school. I know this because I have a vivid memory of our 6th grade teacher – Sister Amica – walking around our classroom while we were having quiet reading time, glancing down at the book I was reading and gasping in horror. She proceeded to take the book from my hands and held it up for the entire class to see as an example of a highly inappropriate reading choice. Was I reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover? No. I was reading Death on the Nile, a fine Agatha Christie novel featuring our favorite Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.
The book came – as many of my books did back in those days – from the Columbus Public Library. On the bottom left-hand corner of the book there was a stamp indicating it was a Crime Club Book. That, my friends, was my grave sin. “Criiiiiiime Cluuuuuub,” she practically hissed. It was the gun that triggered her anger. Ha, get it? Triggered?
I was an 11 or 12 year old who respected my elders, did my homework, and obeyed instructions from my teachers. Yet, even at that age, I recall thinking, “Really? You’re troubled by an Agatha Christie mystery?” Good thing my parents taught me to think for myself.
Anyway, I love Agatha Christie mysteries to this day, and Hercule Poirot is my favorite detective. History tells us Agatha Christie grew tired of Poirot, referring to him as “that annoying little Belgian.” She called him a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep.” That’s blunt. I, of course, disagree. But back to Poirot. His style is always the same. He does his due diligence with one trusty sidekick or another following behind him and doing his bidding. Using his “little grey cells,” he is able to solve the mystery. In the last chapter, he always gathers everyone into a room and proceeds to explain the who, how, and why. I don’t think I ever guessed a murderer in advance. What’s more, though I’ve read the books more times than I can count, I rarely remember the murderer. One of the few instances where getting old and forgetful comes in handy.
The exception to this phenomenon is Murder on the Orient Express. The reason I remember the murderer is because not only have I read the book a half dozen times, but there have been a total of four Murder on the Orient Express movies made, and I’ve seen all but the one that was made-for-network-television in 2001 and was panned. Well, true confession: There was a Japanese version made that I also missed. Seeing Hercule Poirot eat sushi is just wrong.
The most recent version is, of course, the one that is currently running in the movie theaters. Bec and I went to see it yesterday. She is as a big an Agatha Christie fan as I, except I don’t think she ever got busted in school for reading The Mysterious Affair at Styles. She probably covered the book up with brown paper. Anyway, I was very excited when I saw the preview for the movie because it is such a great mystery. However, I had two concerns about watching this movie. 1) Would it be as much fun when I knew the ending; and 2) How could anyone besides David Suchet play Poirot. As far as I’m concerned, he is the Poirot by which all Poirots are measured.
A couple of years ago, I took a class through the Academy of Lifelong Learning, a program offering educational opportunities for seniors. While others were taking Economics in the 21st Century, or Using Physics Principles in Everyday Life, I took a class on Hercule Poirot. Stop snickering. I loved it. It gave me the opportunity to talk to other Agatha Christie geeks about which actress was the best Miss Marple, or what was your favorite Christie murder location.
As part of the course, we watched two of the four movies. In 1974, the first Murder on the Orient Express movie came out, and it featured Albert Finney as the Belgian detective, with a slew of famous costars, including Ingrid Bergman. Then the Poirot series on PBS television offered their version, and the angels sang. David Suchet as Poirot, well, it’s just right. Fewer famous costars, but DAVID SUCHET.
So how does the 2017 version compare? Favorably, I’m happy to say. Kenneth Branagh, an Irish actor and director, stars as Poirot, and does a great job. He doesn’t try to copy Suchet’s Poirot, and that’s a good thing. Even his famous Poirot mustaches are different. This one is so big it practically needs it’s own dressing room…..
The movie featured a bang-up cast, especially if you watch a lot of PBS movies and television shows. I found myself trying to figure out where I saw that actor or on which show that actress plays a police detective. And I will watch any movie in which Judi Dench has a role, though this one was small.
As for knowing the ending, surprisingly, that wasn’t a problem at all. I watched the movie a bit differently than someone who didn’t know the murderer’s identity, but it kind of made it fun.
By the way, as I was driving home, I learned from the radio that it was World Kindness Day. If I had known that, I would have bought Bec’s ticket. But Poirot was kind at the end of the movie, so there was that….