The appeal of the film is clear: stars are not being asked to play anything run-of-the-mill. They are showcased in sumptuous 1930s glamour, dressing for dinner (even on a train), and the cooks produce delicious fancies such as walnut soufflés.
‘I liked the sense that I could let the audience escape into that world,’ says Branagh, ‘where the details of what the characters are touching, seeing, eating, drinking, wearing are a significant part of the pleasure. ‘We live in a world where everything is so transient and quick, it seemed to me a period in which, from a piece of linen to a glass of water to an arrangement of flowers, there could be a way of evoking a parenthesis of calm in an incredibly rushed life.’
Branagh had long discussions with Michael Green and Jim Clay, the film’s production designer, about how to pin down key details from the period. ‘I wanted forensic detail, so you feel as though you’ve taken residence on the train and are taken into a much more dangerous environment.’ When the avalanche hits the train, it comes to a stop on a creaky old viaduct in the mountains. Branagh introduces the idea that passengers can escape. ‘It puts a lot of jeopardy, a ticking clock in the way of the story.’
Branagh also embraced relentless precision as his guiding aesthetic. He never shot unless someone had been around with a ruler making sure each glass, plate, knife, fork was in exactly the right place. ‘Every flower had to be the same height, the stalks had to be the right height, with the right level of water…’ Dishes had to be historically accurate. ‘Whatever you see being eaten is from that time,’ says Branagh. This included a huge baked and glazed cod. ‘It was a time when gelatine and brawn were used a great deal. I can tell you that they have a short life cycle under film lights – they collapse, and get pretty whiffy.’ All the train fittings were either Orient Express originals or copied from originals, from the seats that unfolded to become beds right down to the coat hooks, door latches and light switches.
Authenticity also governed the costumes, which are mostly handmade and true to period. Alexandra Byrne, the costume designer, was ‘very kind because she protected my skin from all the wool,’ says Pfeiffer. ‘I am very sensitive to wool. I get itchy.’ The fabric for Poirot’s suits was specially woven in a mill in Scotland to ensure the drape and movement was ‘true’. ‘Cloth from the 1930s has a much denser weave, which we don’t use today for tailoring,’ says Alexandra Byrne [the costume designer]. ‘If you are using a modern fabric, it’s a bit more bouncy.’ There was also an ‘ironing station’ – with an iron and a steamer, to ensure clothes had the ‘right’ type of crease. ‘There are creases from sitting down on a chair on the train and there are creases from sitting down in a chair in a make-up trailer – and they are a bit different,’ Byrne explains.
In Christie’s stories, Poirot’s moustache is described as ‘gigantic’, ‘immense’ and ‘amazing’. In Murder on the Orient Express, he is ‘a little man with enormous moustaches’. Now Branagh has set a standard of facial shrubbery that few can hope to equal. He sees it as a ‘visor’ and a ‘mask’ that also hints at military service. ‘There is more substance and bulk, more growl in the moustache,’ he says. It is also a useful aid in detection.‘People around him, I certainly felt, were focusing on the moustache, and not on him checking them out.’ Branagh tried growing his own – ‘it took a long time’ – but in the end went for a stick-on version.
‘Everytime you made Ken laugh it would peel off,’ says Bateman. ‘I do remember getting the first email jpeg of the moustache and seeing something that took magnificence to a magnificent degree,’ says Green. ‘I just giggled to myself and thought, “Can we create a movie where the moustache by the end doesn’t appear distracting because you are so involved in the story?”’ - The Telegraph, October 19 2017 [x]
okay bUT LIKE... DAVID NOW HAS CAMERON AND DANIEL WHO ARE PROBABLY GONNA COME BACK WITH A GRUDGE ON HIM. That's not one, not three, but TWO VERY DANGEROUS PEOPLE WHO WANT TO HURT AND MAYBE EVEN MURDER THE SUNSHINE MAN. I'm just....VERY CONCERNED.