Shakespeare aficionado Kenneth Branagh has been hopping from genre to genre with his directorial efforts over the past five years; following the release of his MCU superhero adventure Thor in 2011, Branagh moved on to reboot the Tom Clancy-created Jack Ryan franchise with his origin story for the eponymous CIA analyst, in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Branagh then decided to call the shots on Disney’s live-action Cinderella fairy tale re-imagining before setting his sights on another sort of re-telling altogether: Murder on the Orient Express, a film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s well-renowned 1934 murder mystery novel featuring the author’s famous Belgian detective character, Hercule Poirot.
The plan from the get-go was for Branagh to play Mr. Poirot himself in Murder on the Orient Express (in addition to directing), with the remainder of the cast rounded out by either A-list stars or actors on near-equal critical standing as Sir Branagh. Since then, it’s been something of a guessing game, waiting to see which actors line up to play the many passengers onboard the Orient Express – a train that becomes a murder scene when one of the passengers winds up dead, and Poirot is left to deduce which of the still-living passengers is the culprit responsible.
Thanks to a report from THR, we now know who will make up the rest of the ensemble in Branagh’s take on Murder on the Orient Express. The cast includes Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Mary Debenham, a working class woman; Michael Peña (Ant-Man) as Marquez, a Cuban passenger; Judi Dench (Philomena) as Princess Dragomiroff, a member of the Russian royalty; and Tom Bateman (Jekyll & Hyde) as the Frenchman Bouc. Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer are likewise set as cast members (following reports of them circling roles) and will portray Mr. Ratchette and Mrs. Hubbard, respectively.
Other members of the cast include Lucy Boynton (Sing Street), Derek Jacobi (Cinderella (2015)) and Hamilton Broadway stage musical alum Leslie Odom Jr., in turn. Branagh, who is also producing Murder on the Orient Express alongside such big names as Ridley Scott and Simon Kinberg, has issued the following statement regarding the film’s ensemble cast:
“Christie’s Murder is mysterious, compelling and unsettling. I’m honored to have this fantastic group of actors bring these dark materials to life for a new audience.”
Murder on the Orient Express was famously adapted into an Oscar-winning film by Sidney Lumet back in 1974, so the bar is set pretty high for Branagh and his cast on their own adaptation of Christie’s famous mystery tale. Branagh, as a storyteller, has long specialized in not only exploring tales of the character-driven variety (see his many Shakespeare adaptations, for case in point), but also staging the proceedings in a handsome and high-minded cinematic fashion too. Which is to say, he’s as good a choice as any filmmaker currently active to try and deliver another memorable rendition of Christie’s murder story on the big screen – all while leading the charge on both sides of the camera himself.
As for the cast that Branagh has assembled here, it’s a nice eclectic mix of A-list talent, critically-acclaimed character actors and promising up-and-comers. Ridley, in particular, continues to diversify her acting portfolio outside of playing Rey in the third Star Wars movie trilogy with her role here. The Force Awakens breakout star is also keeping extra busy now too, between her role in this and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VIII; not to mention, she’s attached to star in the young adult novel adaptation Chaos Walking and will be appearing in Sony’s Peter Rabbit movie (which starts filming early next year).
Murder on the Orient Express opens in U.S. theaters on November 22nd, 2017.