There’s a new Murder on the Orient Express, of which you are no doubt aware due to Kenneth Branagh’s OTT mustachios invading your personal space. I’m not as bad as Trystan — I don’t HATE murder mysteries, I just can’t get into regular series. A one-off movie, like Death on the Nile (1978), And Then There Were None (2015), or The Witness for the Prosecution (2016)? Sure! So when my mom came to visit and wanted to see Murder on the Orient Express (2017), I was down.
Now, I haven’t read the original Agatha Christie book or seen any of the previous adaptations, so in some ways it was good because I had zero ideas about the characters, plot, or who-did-it. On the other hand, I was less than riveted by the plot turns, and I’m not sure whether that’s due to Branagh’s adaptation or the story itself. I’m not going to give anything away in case you’re in the same boat I was in (knowing nothing), but once the truth came out, I just didn’t really believe that ALL of these characters were as motivated as they were supposed to be.
Nonetheless, it was a perfectly entertaining movie, and the costumes were appropriate and lovely, so let’s take a look, shall we? They were designed by Alexandra Byrne (Persuasion, Elizabeth, Elizabeth: the Golden Age) and since this is such a high-profile movie, she’s done a ton of press.
Overall, I thought the costumes were well done and appropriate to the period and the characters’ class. On the other hand, Byrne talks a lot in press about putting in lots of little details that are clues to characters, which I totally missed. Maybe I’d catch it on a second watch? I’m sure I’d enjoy looking for them now that I know they’re there … Byrne said:
“The majority of the characters, when we first meet them, are not dressed as who they really are; they’re pretending to be somebody else. So I wanted to do sort of a practical map of [everything that happened from] before the murder so that I had a backbone to find how they would dress as this other person they’re pretending to be. I wanted people to believe in these characters until we get to the end of the film, to the reveal. How I dressed them had to have integrity and credibility, so that if you wanted to backtrack through it, it would all make sense.” (In ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ There Are Clues in the Clothes)
According to Byrne, part of the issue was that the movie was filmed on 70mm-wide high-resolution film, which meant that every detail could be seen on screen. Thus, according to fashionista.com, “most of the pieces in the movie were custom-built by Byrne and her team to ensure impeccable condition and precise detail…” (How the ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ Costume Designer Outfitted Daisy Ridley and Michelle Pfeiffer in Authentic ’30s Clothing). And, of course, Byrne says that she and the other filmmakers “wanted a total sense of period, but also a bit of modernity to the clothes” (Dressed to Kill: Inside the Lavish Costumes of Murder on the Orient Express).
Michelle Pfeiffer plays American Caroline Hubbard. Byrne says that:
“Christie described her as ‘a woman who walks too loud.’ Michelle [Pfeiffer] and I worked on the idea of Mrs. Hubbard dressing as the seasoned tourist. Each outfit has something to do with her previous or upcoming destination. She travels from the East in a dress with Syrian embroidery and she travels into the mountains wearing a ski suit — always distrusting the saying that ‘less is more.'” (How the ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ Costume Designer Outfitted Daisy Ridley and Michelle Pfeiffer in Authentic ’30s Clothing)
Judi Dench plays Princess Dragomiroff. Byrne says, “She is a wealthy Russian princess in exile who would visit the fashion houses, so I looked to Lanvin for influence” (How the ‘Orient Express’ Costume Designer Used Detective Clues to Style the Cast).
That would be Jeanne Lanvin, French fashion designer. Here’s a few of her more sparkly numbers for comparison:
Daisy Ridley plays Mary Debeham, who is, according to Byrne, “a young single woman who needs to work to support herself… She wears sensible clothes, and has quite a small wardrobe” (How the ‘Orient Express’ Costume Designer Used Detective Clues to Style the Cast). And, of course, her costumes were my favorite — lots of nice tweedy and crepe numbers, lots of autumnal colors.
Lucy Boynton plays the reclusive Countess Elena Andrenyi, who is almost always hiding in her car and wearing lounging wear. Most of the fabrics were custom-made for the film, but according to fashionista.com, at least one of the Countess’ costumes was made from real antique 1930s lamé.
For the gents, Byrne says:
“Some of the men’s suits, we had them made because there’s a difference between English and American and European tailoring for men. It has to do with the cut, but also with the type of cloth. A lot of English tailoring is made in quite a heavy wool, and to get a wool at that weight would be quite dense and thick. You can’t get that kind of wool to behave the way you want it to. So we did have some of the suits made in Scotland.” (In ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ There Are Clues in the Clothes)
Johnny Depp plays shady American Edward Ratchett. According to fashionista.com’s interview with Byrne, part of the way they demonstrated his character was by putting him in loose and wide printed ties.
And, of course, we gotta talk about that mustache, which was designed by hair designer Carol Hemming. Not being terribly attached to the character of Poirot, I thought it was OTT but I’m not terribly stressed about it … but I know many of you ARE stressed and feel like it’s too flouncy for the precise Poirot.
According to an interview with costume designer Byrne (so the quotes here are her’s): “Hair and makeup designer Carol Hemming devised a ‘double-mustache effect’ to achieve author Christie’s description of ‘one of the most magnificent in all of England'” (How the ‘Orient Express’ Costume Designer Used Detective Clues to Style the Cast).
“In a way, the act of putting the moustache on, was the process of becoming Poirot. We became so anal about how foursquare, perfect, symmetrical he would want it and that we therefore had to make it. Everybody became as particular as Hercule himself. In a way, the secret is in the moustache, because as soon as you start getting as concerned about it as he did, somehow everything else opened up, and you’d entered the world of Poirot. It was like his superpower!” (Murder on the Orient Express’ Kenneth Branagh says Poirot’s moustache is ‘like his superpower’)
Have you seen the 2017 Murder on the Orient Express? Feel free to rant about Branagh’s mustache in the comments!