By Mark Hanrahan
LONDON (Reuters) – Agatha Christie, the author dubbed the ‘Queen of Crime,’ is returning to the big screen after a decades-long absence with an adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express,” directed by Kenneth Brannagh.
Starring Brannagh as eccentric detective Hercule Poirot, the film premiered in London on Thursday and features a star-studded cast, including Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and “The Force Awakens” star Daisy Ridley.
“Previous film versions have been romps and they’ve been wonderful, but it felt like with this group of actors it could get a little more dark and a little more emotional, and surprise and divert in a different way,” Brannagh told Reuters at the film’s premiere.
A ‘whodunit’ tale, the film follows Brannagh’s detective as he seeks to unmask a murderer among the passengers on board the glamorous train, trapped by an avalanche in mountainous terrain in southern Europe.
Christie, who died in 1976 aged 85, is cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the bestselling novelist of all time.
Over 30 feature films have been based on her work, including a 1974 version of “Murder on the Orient Express,” that saw Ingrid Bergman win an Academy Award for her performance.
Despite a rich pedigree in print, film and television, Brannagh’s film represents something of a cinematic resurrection for Christie’s work, with the most recent previous cinematic adaptation being 1985’s “Ordeal by Innocence.”
“It’s been 30 years, I guess, since we’ve had a proper cinema film,” said James Prichard, Christie’s great grandson and CEO of Agatha Christie Ltd., the company which manages the rights to her works.
“I’d love to say that it was a strategy, that we held it back and refused to allow it, but actually we kind of went out of fashion for a bit, certainly on the big screen.”
“Murder on the Orient Express,” is the first in an upcoming slew of new film and television adaptations of Agatha Christie properties, which include a production of “Witness for the Prosecution,” directed by and starring Oscar-winner Ben Affleck.
So, will Christie’s Poirot go the way of modern-day cinematic heavyweights, superheroes like Spider-Man or Iron Man, and spawn a franchise?
“I think Ken’s been fantastic, and I think the idea of this being a one-off Ken Poirot would be sad, so I’d love to see him do more,” Prichard said.
“Murder on the Orient Express,” opens in the UK on November 3.
(Additional reporting by Francis Maguire; Writing by Mark Hanrahan in London)