This is Kenneth Branagh's second movie to be shot on 65mm film. The first was Hamlet (1996). After 21 years, Branagh decided to use this film format once again because, according to his own words, he felt inspired by some independent movies he had been watching. Mostly, films by Michael Haneke. With the announcement in the second theatrical trailer that the film will receive a limited 70mm engagement, Murder on the Orient Express (2017) is now the fourth film in the 2010's to be shot on 65mm and projected in 70mm, following The Master (2012), The Hateful Eight (2015) and Dunkirk (2017) (in which Branagh appears in a supporting role).
Character positions in a shot near the end of the movie, with all the suspects sitting at a long table in the mouth of the tunnel mimics the exact positions of the figures in DaVinci's painting "The Last Supper."
When the trailer for the film was first released, many Agatha Christie fans complained about Kenneth Branagh's interpretation of Poirot's iconic moustache being insulting to the source material. When the novel Murder on the Orient Express was first adapted for the screen in 1974, Christie (who was still alive at the time) was rather displeased with how the moustache on Albert Finney's Poirot turned out.
Much of the cast and extras are made up of Kenneth Branagh's closest friends and acquaintances, with many of them having either been directed by Branagh in his previous projects, co-starred with Branagh in a film or theatre production, and/or have been a member of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company.
The Orient Express ran over a variety of routes. The "Classic" Orient Express ran between Paris and Istanbul via Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. The train in this film - as a station announcement makes clear - is the Simplon Orient Express, which ran via Milan, Venice, Belgrade and Sofia.
In real life there was one actual murder on The Orient Express. Maria Farcasanu was robbed and murdered by Karl Strasser, who pushed her out of the moving train, one year after Agatha Christie's book was published. Also, in 1950, Simon Karpe disappeared from the train under suspicious circumstances involving espionage; some elements inspired Ian Fleming's From Russia with Love.
A majority of the bit roles are played by actors who were at one time or another members of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, who also directs and stars in Murder on the Orient Express (2017). Members include Michael Rouse (who plays a British Police Chief Inspector in 'Murder'), Paapa Essiedu (Young Policeman), Hadley Fraser (British Military Escort), Kathryn Wilder (a prostitute), and Matthew Hawksley (Waiter on the Orient Express), just to name a few.
The story was inspired partly by an incident in 1929 when the Orient Express was trapped in a blizzard in Çerkezköy, Turkey, where it was stranded for six days. Two years later Christie was involved in a similar scenario when she was travelling on the Orient Express and the train got stuck for a period of time due to heavy rainfall and flooding, which had washed away part of the track.
Derek Jacobi's partner/better-half Richard Clifford appears in the film as Matire D during a restaurant scene in Istanbul. Clifford has also previously appeared in small roles in other Kenneth Branagh directed films, such as As You Like It (2005) and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994).
Penélope Cruz's character is named Greta Ohlsson and is of Swedish descent in the original novel. The new name chosen for the character (Pilar Estravados) is taken from Agatha Christie's 1938 novel 'Hercule Poirot's Christmas'.
The Simplon as in the Simplon Orient Express, is in reference to the twelve mile Simplon Tunnel linking Switzerland and Italy, removed a half a day's travel time between Paris and Istanbul by way of Venice.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017) is the fourth movie in which both Johnny Depp and Willem Dafoe are cast together, the first being Platoon (1986), the second being Cry-Baby (1990), and the third being Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003).
It used some of the same 65mm film cameras as Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, which Branagh had acted in shortly before this production. These two were among the very few to be shot on 65mm film since Branagh's Hamlet in 1996, and the only ones released in 2017.
A majority of the actors in the film (both the main cast - like Kenneth Branagh and Derek Jacobi - and the bit players) are current and former members of the United Kingdom's foremost theatre companies: The Royal Shakespeare Company and The Royal National Theatre. Several of them have also appeared live broadcasts produced by these companies.
Kenneth Branagh and Derek Jacobi have previously played the role of Hamlet on film and stage, as well as directing each other in their interpretations of the famous Shakespeare tragedy. Branagh appeared in Jacobi's stage production in 1988 (with the Renaissance Theatre Company), and then went to star and direct in the 1996 big screen adaptation of the play, with Jacobi appearing as King Claudius. Jacobi played Hamlet in 1979 for a stage production that toured Europe and Australasia, and later reprised the role in a television adaptation aired by the BBC in 1980. Coincidentally, Paapa Essiedu (an extra who appears as a police officer guarding the Wailing Wall at the start of the movie) also played the role of Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2016.
Kenneth Branagh and Johnny Depp have appeared in the Harry Potter film franchise. Branagh appeared in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). Depp appeared in the franchise's prequel Fanstastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016).
Johnny Depp has previously worked on numerous occassions with Kenneth Branagh's former partner, Helena Bonham Carter. The two appeared together in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Corpse Bride (2005), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Alice in Wonderland (2010), Dark Shadows (2012), The Lone Ranger (2013) and Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016).
Judi Dench and Johnny Depp have appeared in films about the infamous Jack the Ripper murders. Dench appeared as Sally in the Sherlock Holmes tale A Study in Terror (1965), while Depp appeared as Inspector Frederick Abberline in From Hell (2001). Both of these films are fictionalized portrayals of the murders, and, like Murder on the Orient Express, are written as a whodunnit.
Sergei Polunin (Count Raldoph) and Hadley Fraser (British Military Escort) both appeared in The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall (2010). Polunin, an accomplished dancer, portrayed a slave driver and a shepherd in the ballet sequences, while Fraser, a popular West End performer, played the romantic leader, Raoul.
Daisy Ridley (Mary Debenham) and ensemble members, Elliot Levey (Rabbi), Crispin Letts (Head Waiter on the Orient Express) Ansu Kabia (Newsreel Police Captain) and Paapa Essiedu (Young Policeman) have all appeared in the British medical drama Casualty (1989- ).
Kenneth Branagh (Hercule Poirot), Judi Dench (Princess Dragomiroff), Derek Jacobi (Masterman), Richard Clifford (maître d' and Jacobi's real-life partner), Gerard Horan (Aynesworth) and Miranda Raison (Sonia Armstrong) have all appeared in the biopic My Week with Marilyn (2011). Coincidentally, My Week with Marilyn also featured Toby Jones, who played Ratchett (the murder victim) in the 2010 television adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, along side David Suchet as Poirot. The adaptation was a feature length episode of the long running crime drama Agatha Christie's Poirot (1989-2013).
Kenneth Branagh (Poirot), Tom Batement (M. Bouc), Elliot Levey (Rabbi) and Gerard Horan (Aynesworth) have previously appeared in adaptations of William Shakespeare's romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Branagh and Horan appeared in the 1993 big screen adaptation (which Branagh himself directed), while Batement and Levey appeared in the 2011 television adaptation starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate.
Todd Boyce (who appears as a judge in the film) previously appeared in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). Both of these films star Johnny Depp, who plays Ratchett.
Judi Dench previously worked with Albert Finney in the James Bond reboot Skyfall (2012). Finney portrayed Hercule Poirot in the 1974 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. Coincidentally, the 1974 film also featured Sean Connery, who played James Bond in the original film series.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
At the end of the movie, a messenger informs Poirot that he is needed in Egypt on solve a "death on the Nile". Death On the Nile is the title of another Hercule Poirot mystery novel and upcoming movie.
Agatha Christie's original plot is loosely based upon the Lindbergh kidnapping of Highfield/ Hopewell, New Jersey, in the 1920s. The character of Mr. MacQueen's Father is a fictionalized version of Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf - the head New Jersey State Police Investigator in the Lindbergh case.
When Poirot is interrogating Daisy Ridley's character he remarks "It fractures the soul to kill another human being." Kenneth Branagh played Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Lord Voldemort, the central antagonist of the Harry Potter series of books/films, keeps himself alive by literally separating pieces of his soul through murder and hiding the fragments in meaningful objects. The first of which (though it is not realized until much later) is discovered in this very installment.
After the murder in the dining car the suspects faces have two faces when they are viewed through the glass from the refraction, when Gerhard (Dafoe) is caught in a lie during his questioning he is giving a additional face. When Mary Debenham is being dishonest too Poirot her face is shot to give it an asymmetrical look while Poirot's is shot symmetrically.