Those of us who see David Suchet when we hear the name Hercule Poirot will have to adjust our vision and imagine Kenneth Branagh in his place. He is Poirot in the new film version of Murder on the Orient Express.
Ever since its publication in 1934, Agatha Christie’s famed mystery has been adapted for radio, television, and film. Suchet played the detective who famously used his little grey cells to solve the murder in the PBS series. Albert Finney was Poirot in the 1974 film. And now, Branagh is directing and starring in another film version. No wonder the story’s popularity has endured. It’s the ultimate locked room mystery.
Although it’s not based on a true story (as they say in Hollywood), it does have a basis in reality.
Just imagine it’s January 1929, and you’re a passenger on your way to Istanbul on the famed Orient Express. Your compartment is luxurious and you know from past experience that the service will be impeccable. You also know that meals will rival those of any restaurant in Europe.
When the maître d’hotel welcomes you into the dining car, you see tables covered with fine white linens. Baccarat crystal glasses sparkle in the flattering glow of gas chandeliers, the sterling flatware gleams, and the porcelain plates are embellished with gold. The flowers on the tables are fresh and subtly fragrant.
You’re eager to read the menu. Perhaps tonight, after the consommé, there will be sole poached in white wine, one of your favorites. Then possibly you’ll choose the roast sirloin of beef, served with a fine Burgundy. Naturally the vegetables will be perfectly prepared; the breads freshly baked. There are sure to be wonderful cheeses of the region you’re passing through. You’re hoping the grand finale will be one of the soufflés the Orient Express is famous for or perhaps a selection of its own ices and ice creams. After dinner and a demitasse, you and your companions will retire to the smoking car for port and conversation. Perhaps you’ll play cards or simply enjoy the music of the pianist on board. Outside it’s snowing. Watching the snow swirl by the window makes you feel even warmer and more cosseted. Then the train stops.
But there is no stop scheduled here, just over the border from Budapest. One of the train attendants comes by and explains that it is nothing, just a few moments to clear the snow from tracks ahead. Sure enough, the train starts again. Before long it stops again. This time it’s more serious. Communications along the line are down, the snow is too deep to clear, the train is immobilized. You will spend six days here in the train, as it grows colder and the kitchen runs out of food.
When this actually happened, Christie was not aboard the train, nor was anyone murdered. But it was widely reported at the time, and she would have known about it.
Food was central to the Orient Express experience, and its passengers were not people who were accustomed to going without; however, in her book Christie barely mentioned food and never alluded to the lack of it. For Agatha Christie, being stranded on a train surrounded with snowdrifts unsullied by footprints meant just one thing – murder.
Cantaloupe and port sorbet
Enjoy your after-dinner port in the form of a sorbet as you picture yourself traveling on a luxurious train through Europe – without a murder.
One large or two small cantaloupes, cut up to make three cups
Pinch of salt
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup port
3 tablespoons of orange juice
Purée the cantaloupe pieces in a blender or food processor. Add the salt and sugar, and mix until the sugar is dissolved. Blend in the port and orange juice. Pour the mixture into a bowl and refrigerate, preferably overnight.
Churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Store, tightly covered, in your freezer.
Serve after dinner or anytime. Enjoy.
Makes one quart.