It’s been three days now since I watched the blockbusting new film Murder on the Orient Express but I still haven’t got Kenneth Branagh’s moustache out of my mind. I know it’s a mistake to get too hung up on this sort of thing; my enjoyment of Nicole Kidman’s The Hours was destroyed by the very odd putty nose she was wearing, and everyone’s hair was altogether too mesmerising in American Hustle. But Ken’s moustache will go down in prosthetic history, there can be no doubt. I’ve since read the Times critic’s brilliant description of it as ‘two terrified grey squirrels surgically attached to his face,’ but I came out of the movie thinking more of the cat stroked so mesmerisingly by arch-baddy Blofeld in the Bond film You Only Live Twice. This tache really is a magnificent beast, stretching almost ear to ear, with valleys and peaks galore, like a mountain range, or a deliciously fluffy feline stretching luxuriously. As we see, Ken’s Poirot even has to wear a Hannibal Lecter-style face guard to keep the thing under control at night.
Every Poirot has a right to invent a preposterous moustache, it must be part of the fun of playing the uptight little Belgian, with his mincing steps and his addiction to tisanes. Unfortunately, in the Kenneth Branagh adaptation, he seems to have extrapolated outwards from the tache, and reinvented Poirot as a death-defying, carriage-jumping muscle man, as wild as his whiskers, who at one point scampers up and down the snowy roof of the Orient Express and then does hand-to-hand battle with one of the suspects. Would Agatha Christie’s little Belgian really be up for that, in his notoriously tight and pinch-prone patent shoes, with his penchant for sitting quietly and letting his little grey cells make all the leaps required to arrive at a brilliant deduction? All that Ken’s Poirot needs, to join Thor and all the rest of them as a super-hero, is a cape, no doubt to be lined extravagantly with fur.
But it really doesn’t matter at all, because the film is quite irresistible anyway. Branagh as director may never have called ‘cut’ on his own scenes, but he’s certainly brought together an amazing bunch of supporting actors, from Dame Judi Dench to Michelle Pfeiffer, including Johnny Depp and our own wonderful Olivia Coleman. The train itself is also a star, with its polished mahogany and twinkling cut glass. Godiva, the Belgian chocolatier, seems to have got some sort of product placement deal, as an open box of their chocs was displayed more than once. Otherwise, the poor old passengers don’t seem to get much fodder, but spend a lot of time lying furiously about their backstories while Ken strokes his tremendous face furniture.
I’d see it again any day. Best of all, there’s a clunking great hint of a sequel to come at the end. I can’t wait. Blofeld’s cat, you have been warned. You’ve got another excursion coming up soon. Pack your pet passport – and your suncream.