As you can probably tell by my recent POST, I am both excited and slightly dubious about Kenneth Branagh’s foray into Agatha Christie adaptations. What perplexes me the most about this choice is that while it is universally renowned, Murder on the Orient Express isn’t actually a great novel, and as such it seems an odd choice when there are so many great, Golden Age or Golden Age esq novels out there for Branagh to choose from.
Granted, this classic novel does contain some great characterisation, Christie’s typical flair for the dramatic and some superb dialogue, but Murder on the Orient Express is, fundamentally, dull and slow, with a very strange and improbable ending, even for the Queen of Crime herself. So I have made a list of five novels I think Kenneth should have adapted instead, and while I’m pretty sure this will never get back to him and that he will never read this blog, maybe the universe will align and one day he will take my suggestions of his own accord. You never know!
5. Farewell, My Lovely: Alright, alright, so I doubt there’d be a part in this novel adaptation for Branagh, but it would be good to see a decent film version of Raymond Chandler’s masterful second novel (since the 1975 Robert Mitchum movie wasn’t up to very much) and I reckon Branagh would be the best man for the job. As I say, there’s not a part in it for him, not one that wouldn’t make him look ham-fisted at any rate, but he’s done a great job directing gritty, American style thrillers such as the remake of Sleuth and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit before so I think, if he could get some really decent actors in, that he could make an amazing version of this witty and intelligent hardboiled pulp fiction classic. The dialogue is superb and the setting allows for great creativity when it comes to costumes and set design, and if Branagh did adapt it then we would have the chance to see this droll novel to finally get the adaptation it deserves.
4. Cold Granite: Stuart MacBride’s first Logan McRae novel is superb, with excellent dialogue, some brilliant plotting and a truly vicious villain. Children are being abducted and the returning DS McRae is in over his head, with a new DI and some persistent journalists all on his case to turn things even worse. If Branagh wanted to take on the main role in this film version he could just re-channel his inner Wallander- playing the character as a Scottish version of Mankell’s famously dour detective. Accents are clearly something Branagh enjoys bringing to a new role and I’m sure he could get a strong Scottish sorted in no time.
3. Urn Burial: Kerry Greenwood’s novel is written in a classic Golden Age style, making this a great book for Branagh to develop into a thrilling and fashionable film. The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher is nothing if not sophisticated, and this would be the ideal space to show off a massive Hollywood budget with exquisite clothing, lavish settings and some of the finest music ever composed. If Branagh wanted to snag a part for himself (and let’s face it here, he almost always does. He reminds me of that Dennis Waterman sketch from Little Britain ‘write the theme tune, sing the theme tune’- picking a part for himself even if he is unsuited to it, like playing a Belgium detective or a Russian villain) then he could easily fit the role of gracious host Tom Reynolds, a former publisher hosting a decedent party at his garish home when sinister happenings force long buried secrets and unflattering home truths to the surface. Drawing on his Gilderoy Lockhart style charm, adding a slight Aussie twang, he could easily portray the belligerent and grumpy Reynolds, giving him both a starring role and directing kudos.
2. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club: I’m not sure which would be funnier, Kenneth Branagh as Lord Peter Wimsey or as Bunter; either way, Branagh directing one of Sayer’s masterful novels would be intriguing, and I think this is one of the best. Combining mystery with class criticism, this is a real meaty novel for Branagh to get his teeth into, much like Murder on the Orient Express, only with genuinely interesting characters that readers can actually invest in and an outcome that doesn’t defy all logic and reason.
1. Dead Man’s Folly: If you’re going to do Christie, pick a good one. I can just image Branagh as the evil Sir George Stubbs, but even if he chose not to star in the film it would still make for an exceptional adaptation. The characters are rich and, unlike many of those in Murder on the Orient Express, two dimensional; all of the characters feature in the plot and make this a genuinely tantalising whodunit. Although ITV did a good job with Suchet’s version, I would like to see Branagh give it a go.