Perfecting the art of murder
Chinese viewers who struggle to remember foreign faces may find it difficult to accept that Commander Bolton in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is returning to the country’s big screen in Murder on the Orient Express.
That’s because this time, the actor who played Bolton sports an enormous moustache and speaks English with a heavy Belgian accent in his portrayal of the famous fictional detective, the creation of Agatha Christie, the prolific British writer dubbed the “Queen of Crime”.
Kenneth Branagh, the award-winning British filmmaker and actor, was in Beijing to promote his upcoming directorial feature Murder on the Orient Express.
In the movie, which has been adapted from Christie’s 1934 novel of the same name, Branagh will appear as Hercule Poirot.
Meanwhile, in addition to the subtitled English-language movie, Chinese audiences will be also able to watch a Mandarin-dubbed version, which will feature A-list actor Wang Qianyuan and actress Yu Feihong alongside veteran voiceover artists Cao Lei and Liu Feng, at Chinese theaters.
Speaking about his character in the movie－which will open across the Chinese mainland on Friday－the director-actor says that the Belgian detective appeared in 33 novels, around 50 short stories and one play between the 1920s and 1970s.
There was also the 1974 movie adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Sidney Lumet, which garnered one award and five Oscar nominations.
“I think it’s a classic story that needs to be retold. It needs to be heard and seen again. I think the meaning changes according to different times,” says Branagh, explaining the reason behind the remake.
“Our goal was to make a cinematic experience to take the audience on the train from Jerusalem to Istanbul …and take them on a visual journey through Europe,” he adds.
The train in the movie, the Orient Express, is a long-distance luxury passenger train service that first started in 1883. Magnified by Christie’s work, the train has enjoyed enduring popularity with travelers over the decades, and they continue to flock to discover the sumptuous compartments and first-rate service depicted in the novel.
Interestingly, room 411 at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul－where Christie is supposed to have penned the novel－also remains a popular tourist spot.
Branagh, who has been a fan of Christie since his mystery-novel-loving mother put him onto the author’s work, recalls his early impressions about the author’s influence on theater.
“When I became an actor, I noticed that our local theaters would put on a production based on an Agatha Christie novel every three months or so. Then I began to realize how important she was in our culture,” says Branagh.
Branagh began researching extensively to prepare for the movie a year ahead of the shoot, from reading all of Christie’s novels about Poirot to revisiting the works of celebrated Belgians like the surrealist Rene Magritte and cartoonist Georges Prosper Remi, author of the Tintin series.
The 56-year-old director-actor even listened to recordings of 27 different Belgian accents by men of Poirot’s age speaking in English. He met with a dialect coach three times a week to study and practice the character’s accent.
As a famous novel which has been translated into around 45 languages and reprinted at least 10 times in China, most moviegoers are aware of the film’s ending before they go to the cinema.
Explaining how he got around this problem, he says: “I directed the stage play Romeo and Juliet starring Lily James last year. Everyone knows what happens to Romeo and Juliet. But what matters is how you do it.
“I thought we could change some elements at the beginning of the film and add several new characters (in Murder on the Orient Express),” he says.
“But what is crucial to the ending is a new twist, which Poirot calls the moral twist. Poirot is a man who says ‘There is right. There is wrong. There is nothing in between.’ But at the end of the story, he begins to consider whether there may be something in between,” reveals Branagh.
In the new movie, the storyline keeps to the core of the original novel, in which the murdered man was once a ruthless criminal who ruined a family. But in the end, Poirot has some doubts about whether the multiple murderers should be punished for seeking justice in their own way.
The star-studded cast assembled for the movie includes big names like Johnny Depp, Dame Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Lucy Boynton and Daisy Ridley.
Branagh says it was a nerve-wracking experience working with so many excellent actors, but the improvisation skills they brought to the movie were indispensable.
For instance, on one occasion Ridley forgot her lines during one scene shot with Poirot outside the train in the snow.
But Branagh did not seem to mind, and let her improvise the scene.
“As she did that, the look in her eyes was so vulnerable. I could really see her thinking. So it was really Daisy forgetting her lines, but it looks like Mary Debenham, the character, lying to Poirot,” says the director, who is also known for a string of movies adapted from the works of Shakespeare.
Source: By Xu Fan | China Daily
Perfecting the art of murder