The filmmakers behind Murder on the Orient Express are giving PEOPLE a first-class ticket aboard the film’s incredible set.
Director Kenneth Branagh and production designer Jim Clay explain to PEOPLE Deputy Editor J.D. Heyman in a PEOPLE TV special how they recreated the iconic 1920s luxury train, built a colossal train station and reimagined Agatha Christie’s world-famous murder mystery.
Sitting in front of a model version of the Orient Express at Longcross Studios outside London, Clay shows the section of the train that was rebuilt at full size and in working order, on tracks in the studio. Filming on a set “was a decision we took quite early with Ken,” Clay explains.
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Art Deco style and luxurious touches abound. “The idea was to try and give people a sort of sensual, sensory kind of experience of what all that wood feels like, all that marquetry, the crispness of the line, the degree to which they work out the precision of which cutlery is laid out, which was all done with little tape measures and things,” Branagh adds.
“At every level, whether it was physically building it or in the set decoration, we tried to just make people feel the workmanship and craftsmanship, because part of being on that train is appreciating that kind of stuff,” says Branagh, who also recreated a train platform at Stamboul (Istanbul) Station on the set.
To prepare, Clay, Branagh and others involved with the film took a trip on the current Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which uses vintage train cars, from Paris to Venice. They used the time to soak in the details on the train and the surrounding scenery, while also noting the limitations of filming on a real train. In narrow hallways and corridors, Clay says moving a camera around would have been nearly impossible, so the cars were slightly widened on set, with removable panels for filming.
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Murder on the Orient Express tells the story of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (played by Branagh), who investigates after a passenger is stabbed to death aboard a luxurious sleeper train heading from Istanbul to Paris. Any of his fellow passengers, from a Russian princess (Dench) to a Spanish missionary (Penélope Cruz), could be the killer.
Published in 1934, the novel became a global blockbuster for Christie, whose works have sold more than two billion copies. The 1974 movie version, starring Albert Finney as Poirot, was nominated for six Oscars, and Ingrid Bergman won Best Supporting Actress.
Also starring Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tom Bateman and Hamilton‘s Leslie Odom Jr., Murder on the Orient Express hits theaters on Nov. 10. Conduct your own investigation with crime scene evidence, clues and suspects online at CluesAreEverywhere.com, where you can also buy tickets for the film.