Retaining charm over the years, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, as book or film, makes a good anytime gift to self or another – the ultimate luxury being to read/watch it on a train. On the Orient Express!
With several screen versions, film and TV, to its credit, this murder mystery continues to engage. But has the latest movie remake run out of steam?
Book to cinema is a flight of fancy that many enjoy. And train journeys have much more romantic potential than flights. Their lure is probably only second to that of an ocean cruise. Geographies whizz by. As the external world flees past, an internal ecosystem evolves. People bond and the inescapable closeness can brings out hostilities.
As it is, train tales occupy a good chunk of popular focus:
And crime on a train is a frequent favourite, on screen or in a novel. Train chase scenes are guaranteed thrills. We might even say that a crime on a train falls into the closed door mystery bracket.
Deemed to be among her nine best, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is based on real experiences of travel, including unexpected halts and co-passengers. Choosing the train as setting, she joins an illustrious line of writers who have staged their fictional dramas on the Orient Express.
In Bram Stoker’s Dracula the vampire escapes by ship while his pursuers board the Express.
Next comes Graham Greene with his Stamboul Train and that is one book I shall seriously consider reading – on a train.
And this is followed by Ms. Christie with, first, a short story, and, then, the novel. Preview the short story on the Amazon cover below:
In Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot version, he boards the express and, obviously, there is a murder. Poirot is faced with ethical issues – and one of the movie versions makes much of this for its Catholic worth. So, this is a book that offers you, not only an adventurous ride in a very luxurious train, but also milks the moment for its moral worth.
The reviews all rave over Poirot’s grey matter and burst with spoilers.
For my part, I will only tell you that, not only is the book inspired by the author’s own travel experiences, but she also used an event in the news to bolster her art.
Charles Lindbergh was famous for many of his groundbreaking flights including the first solo transatlantic one. Details of the kidnapping of his son appear to have inspired Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
The novel was written in Istanbul, in a hotel called the Pera Palace Hotel which has kept her room as showpiece. Now, won’t that make a nice pit stop on a Christie nostalgia trip?
Christie made her first unscheduled trip on the Simplon Orient Express in 1928, after the failure of her 14-year marriage to Archie Christie. Already a seasoned world traveller, Christie left England on an impromptu solitary adventure passing through Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece to Istanbul.
After crossing the Bosphorus Strait, she joined a Simplon Orient Express extension to Damascus, then rode a six-wheeler bus across the desert to Baghdad. On the trip she witnessed her first archaeological dig, and met her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan.
From 1930, the Taurus Express linked the Simplon Orient to Turkey, Syria and Baghdad. Despite greasy food and bed bugs, Christie loved the scenery and adventure enough to take several more Orient and Taurus trips, sometimes arriving two days late, delayed by floods, breakdowns or border bureaucracy.
She recognised the five-day delay when a train was stuck in a Turkish snowdrift in 1929 as an ideal murder-mystery setting, and drew the motive for her 18th novel, Murder On The Orient Express, from the kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s toddler son in 1932.
The novel’s plot has won praise:
Christie isn’t the one deceiving the readers, in the end — the readers deceive themselves.
The first film version of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express , made in 1974, was a success
The more recent film plays around with the plot.
Overlong and joyless, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a giant, opulent express train trapped in the snow, heaving and off balance. Buy another ticket. Skip this train.
However, the scale of the film is grandiose down to costumes:
Vogue met Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne to learn how she sourced the Thirties garments for the film’s female leads – from the missionary’s prim travelling clothes to the princess’s lavish jewellery.
There is also a Japanese version but I found it a bit laboured:
With such a history of remakes, is it time to call it a day? Or do some stories helplessly beg endless screen interpretation? If so, what is that quality? Even as we ponder, academics, somewhere, are busy disentangling such things and writers and script-writers tussle with considerations of ‘best treatments’.
More to the point: What would be the best way to enjoy the book/movie? On or before a train journey? And let’s not forget the option of audiobook.
Now, in case you are tempted to do it on a train, what about the real thing?
These days, one takes the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express precisely for the journey, rather than to get from A to B. Passengers celebrate wedding anniversaries, birthdays, and, according to Girotto, divorces, along the way.