David Suchet is back (Christmas Day, ITV1, at 9pm) as the tubby sleuth who likes to talk through his crime scene analysis in the third person. ITV1's new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express tinkers with the original story just enough for it to feel fresh and distinct from the earlier film and radio versions.
The famous detective, who’s been recalled to London on short notice, boards the Calais-bound locomotive in Istanbul. Onboard, there’s lots of bickering and juddery camera work as the guests, including a Russian princess and a Swedish missionary, squirm in their tiny compartments and try to establish small-scale social order. Our hero is sharing a cubicle with a crabby aspiring actor named McQueen.
The title here is its own spoiler so you know what’s coming. But first, a bullying American businessman approaches the famous detective and offers him a stack of green to protect him from… he’s not quite sure what. Someone on the train, he believes, is out to kill him. Poirot finds the man and his approach distasteful so declines, bluntly.
After the murder (made more dramatic by coinciding with the train becoming stranded in a snow drift) Poirot finds a single puny clue to help him unravel the mystery. But he's gotten more information from lesser titbits in the past. Next Poirot interviews his fellow passengers and finds himself mulling a heap of confusing, misleading and contradictory statements. "What’s up with that?" he asks himself, more or less, tweaking his iconic facial hair to steady his thinking.
After 22-years on the job, Suchet can still exhilarate with his icy, irascible manner and calm, speedy deduction. The actor heaves around that fake potbelly and twiddles his waxed moustache like they’re his own lovingly nurtured blubber and whiskers.
This tale is pulled from Christie’s top drawer so, as you’d expect, its resolution is frighteningly smart. But it's also morally exhausting for the private detective. Once he works out what’s gone on aboard the mired train, Poirot, a devout Catholic, needs to have a serious philosophical and theological word with himself. As he deduces, moralises and shivers (the heating stops working soon after the train is stranded), track workers dig furiously to free the Express. Both tasks will rattle your nerves and have you clawing anxiously at the sofa.