Speaking of Justice : Observations from a multimodal analysis of the 1974, 2010 and 2017 filmic interpretations of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express


Research output: Conference Papers (RGC: 31A, 31B, 32, 33)31B_Invited conference paper (non-refereed items)

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2018


Title学术校庆 “名家讲坛” 系列学术讲座第6期
LocationZhongnan University of Economics and Law
Period17 May 2018


Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, Murder on the Orient Express, written in 1934, has been described as ‘an astonishing exploration of justice’. The potential for contentious debate over what if any difference can be drawn between justice and the rule of law becomes particularly obvious in how the closing scene has been variously portrayed in the three film adaptations discussed in this present study: Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film, starring Albert Finney; Philip Martin’s 2010 television movie, starring David Suchet; and Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 film, also starring Kenneth Branagh. My interest is in how these three film adaptations present their own take on this debate over justice vis-a-vis the rule of law, focusing on the medium of speech as it occurs in multimodal context. In the closing scene, the famous fictional detective, Hercule Poirot, announces his solution to the mystery of who murdered one of the passengers who is revealed to have been responsible for the abduction and subsequent murder of a child. [Spoiler Alert:] The twelve other passengers traveling on the train all happen to be related to the family of the murdered child, and as it turns out they have conspired together to kill this criminal whom the justice system failed to convict. Whereas Finney’s Poirot in the 1974 version appears resigned to the actions of the twelve killers, Suchet’s Poirot fiercely insists the twelve must be held accountable for their crime. Unlike previous film adaptations of the story, Branagh’s 2017 version removes the closing scene from the confined space of the train compartment to the cold snowy outside, situating the exchange as a face-off between a standing prosecutorial Poirot and the twelve killers seated before him in a row. Michael Green, the screenwriter for the 2017 version, discusses his collaboration with the director and lead actor, Kenneth Branagh: “Together, we would be thinking not only of how it would be shot, but how he would want to play individual moments. We could look at a line and discuss the tone and the camera angles, but also, I could hear him read it directly to me and I would be able to shape the lines instantly for him.” Combining a systemic-functional analysis of the verbal exchanges between Poirot and the twelve killers with a multimodal analysis of the film using the Multimodal Analysis (MMA) Video software, I explore how our understanding (as viewers) of each filmic interpretation is shaped through choices in how the film is shot and what is said by whom.