Three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp, Oscar winner (and seven-time nominee) Judi Dench and rising actress Daisy Ridley (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens) are joining a very starry remake of the classic film “Murder on the Orient Express.” Director Kenneth Branagh will also star in this updated version of the Agatha Christie mystery about murder aboard a speeding train. They join Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Lucy Boynton, Tom Bateman, and Tony Award winners Derek Jacobi (“Much Ado About Nothing”) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (“Hamilton”).
The first adaptation of the 1934 novel was the Sidney Lumet 1974 film that featured an equally starry cast. The critically acclaimed box office smash was nominated for six Oscars — Best Actor (Albert Finney), Best Supporting Actress (Ingrid Bergman), Best Adapted Screenplay (Paul Dehn), Best Cinematography (Geoffrey Unsworth), Best Original Score (Richard Rodney Bennett), and Best Costume Design (Tony Walton).
In the film’s only win, Bergman famously earned her third Oscar for her performance in the film, which, at the time, placed her in a tie with Katharine Hepburn for the most Oscars for an actress. Hepburn later broke the tie in 1981 with her fourth award for “On Golden Pond.” Bergman remains one of only five people in Oscar history with three acting trophies (including Walter Brennan, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jack Nicholson, and Meryl Streep).
As with Lumet’s film, which included a slew of other past Oscar contenders (Finney, Dehn, two-time champ Unsworth Bennett and Walton), so it is with this reboot.
Depp can boast of three Best Actor nominations (for 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean,” 2004’s “Finding Neverland,” and 2007’s “Sweeney Todd”). Pfeiffer received a supporting nomination for 1988’s “Dangerous Liasons,” followed by two lead bids for 1989’s “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and 1992’s “Love Field.” Dench’s seven nominations are spread across lead and supporting — Best Actress nods for 1997’s “Mrs. Brown,” 2001’s “Iris,” “Mrs Henderson Presents” in 2005, “Notes on a Scandal” (2006) and finally 2013’s “Philomena.” Her two supporting nominations are for “Chocolat” in 2000, and her Oscar win for “Shakespeare in Love” (1998).
Branagh holds a striking Oscar distinction — he is the only man to number his five Oscar nominations across different categories — Best Actor and Best Director for “Henry V” (1989), Best Live Action Short for “Swan Song” in 1992, Best Adapted Screenplay for “Hamlet” (1996) and Best Supporting Actor for 2011’s “My Week with Marilyn.” (Yes, George Clooney has been nominated in six different categories, but they’re spread over eight nominations, including three for Best Actor.)
“Murder on the Orient Express” is expected to be released in November 2017, smack dab in the thick of the awards season. There’s natural speculation as to what its awards chances might be. Even I, as reckless a prognosticator as I can sometimes be, am hesitant to predict an Oscar race over a year away.
Still, if Branagh brings the same quality of direction that Lumet brought to the 1974 version, there’s no reason to think the remake couldn’t be a player. Branagh has the film’s plummiest role, detective Hercule Poiriot, for which Finney earned a Best Actor bid. Depp has a relatively small supporting role as an American businessman on board, and Pfeiffer takes the role of fussy widow Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall in the original). If Pfeiffer can have as much fun as Bacall seemed to, that could be a blast. Dench takes the role of an elderly Russian princess, which could give her another Oscar chance to be a royal hoot. However, the role of African missionary Greta Ohlsson, for which Bergman won her Oscar, has yet to be cast.
So there’s a chance that we might yet see even more Oscar royalty on board the Orient Express.