Poirot on Film - The Best Movies to Watch

There have been various feature films created based on the Agatha Christie Poirot novels with the most recently released version on Murder on the Orient express starring Kenneth Branagh in 2018.

Some of the most popular productions were created in the 80’s starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot and the excellent casting and costume designs have made them classics with Christie fans world-wide. Here is a review of some of the best productions recommended for you.

Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun with Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot

Despite the fact that Ustinov appeared in four further Christie film adaptations ( Thirteen at Dinner, Murder in Three Acts, Dead Man’s Folly and Appointment with Death, these first two films are the most popular. Due to the settings of these novels there was more opportunity to feature elegant evening gowns and over the top costume designs than perhaps would have been warranted or acceptable in the later films – but the casting and setting have really set these two films apart from the rest.

The cast of each film is superb with Death on the Nile staring Mia Farrow as Jackie De Bellefort, Bette Davis as Mrs VanSchuler, Dame Maggie Smith as Miss Bowers and none other than Angela Lansbury (famous also as Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote). 

Each of the above brings something special to the role whether it’s the hysteria Mia Farrow perfectly portrays as Jackie after shooting Simon Doyle, the double act of Bette Davis and Maggie Smith and the comedy of Angela Lansbury it’s an absolute triumph. Not to mention the fantastic scenery, music score and of course, the costumes – the liquid silk dress worn by Linette Ridgeway was something I dreamt of after watching as a young girl or the simple elegance of the dress worn by Olivia Hussey as Rosalie Otterbourne during the scenes leading up to Jackie’s outburst at Simon. There’s a perfect amount of nostalgia, fashion and pure comic timing – notably lead by Ustinov in many laces – which some of the later films just don’t quite capture.  

Evil Under the Sun does capture the same combination of comedy and luxury though with the wonderful Diana Rigg as Arlena Marshall wearing all manner of cocktail dress creations and her rapport with Maggie Smith (this time in the role of Daphne the hotel proprietor) is brilliant – some of the best lines are so subtly delivered they could be easy to miss such as “Have a sausage darling, you must be starving after waiting all that time in your dressing room” to “ you always could throw your legs higher – and wider –  than the rest of us”. 

Right from the off this film delivers something so purely of its time with the food that it’s a pure joy to watch – just look out for the desert Poirot is tucking into in the very opening scenes or the shrimp tower on display for the luncheon scenes…all utterly fabulous next only to the costumes. Where else could you find a wardrobe of a multi coloured spotted swimsuit with matching bangles, gown and headdress but on Diana Rigg as Arlena Marshall and have it actually look normal! The vision of Ustinov and Poirot going for a swim in his espadrilles and swim ‘ensemble’ complete with monogram is one that will stick with you and finally, Sylvia Miles simply shines as Mrs Gardner in her boudoir with powder puff, feather lined silk negligée and ‘slippers’ – utter extravagance and luxury.

Finally, the score wonderfully bolsters the film along all written by Cole Porter from the Main Title to ‘You’re the top’ and Patrick and Christine’s descent down to the lobby right at the end. Marvellous.

Moving to the more recent adaptations

Die hard Christie fans may find the 2017 film of Murder on the Orient Express too far removed from Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version. The 1974 version starring Albert Finnay as Poirot there is much more close attention to the original characters – the pain of the Armstrong case is more distinct and the dark background to the action taking place on the Orient Express is much more ever present. Although Albert Finnay is not my personal favourite in the role of Poirot – the production of this version captures the pathos and darkness of the story created by Christie and the wonderful acting from the cast such as Sean Connary, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and Vanessa Redgrave carry the film. As an interesting ‘did you know’ – John Moffatt who portrayed Poirot on many of the BBC Radio 4 dramatised versions also appears in this film as the Chief Attendant.

With the latest film released in 2017, unfortunately I find it slow to start and has too many extra (and unnecessary) embellishments from the bizarrely violent addition to the character of the Count Andrenyi and introduction of Pilar Estravadors (from Hercule Poirots Christmas) which seems to have been added in simply to give a role for Penelope Cruz to play. But, Johnny Depp in the role of Ratchett is good and Michelle Pfeiffer does a good portrayal too. To see the elegance of the Orient Express and view the period costumes also gives a lot of pleasure. Hopefully the forthcoming remake of Death on the Nile due in 2020 will be closer to the original story and characters created by Christie whilst also capturing the decadence and indulgence of the original films.

Full list of all the Film versions of Christie’s Poirot Novels and the Actors who Played Poirot (excluding David Suchet productions)

  • 2020 – coming soon – Death on the Nile – Kenneth Brannagh
  • 2017 – Murder on the Orient Express – Kenneth Brannagh
  • 2001- Murder on the Orient Express – Alfred Molina
  • 1986 – Murder in Three Acts – Peter Ustinov
  • 1986 Dead Man’s Folly – Peter Ustinov
  • 1985 – Thirteen at Dinner – Peter Ustinov
  • 1982 – Evil Under the Sun – Peter Ustinov
  • 1978 – Death on the Nile – Peter Ustinov
  • 1974 – Murder on the Orient Express – Alber Finnay
  • 1934 – Lord Edgware Dies – Austin Trevor
  • 1931 – Black Coffee – Austin Trevor
  • 1931 – Alibi – Austin Trevor

Expectations of the New 2020 Death on the Nile Film

Read our thoughts on the trailer of the upcoming film starring Kenneth Branagh as Poirot for the new film Death on the Nile due out in October.