If lush period dramas and classic whodunits are your jam, then Murder on the Orient Express is the fall film you’ve been waiting for. Based on Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel by the same name, director Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation takes viewers on a journey as breathtaking as the Orient Express itself, thanks to impeccably researched costumes and sweeping cinematography. An all-star cast, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, and Penelope Cruz, brings the bravado the characters need to pull off this murder mystery. But it’s 1930s glamour that often steals scenes, as passengers move through the train in luxurious silk dressing gowns with perfectly set curls and neatly packed cases, sipping champagne from crystal coupes and nibbling Godiva chocolates.
“The Orient Express was a very celebrated way of travel so there would have been a sense of event to it,” the film's costume designer, Alexandra Bryne, told InStyle. Connecting Paris to Istanbul, the Orient Express was a symbol of elegance during its time, and the opulence of the art deco train shines in every detail of the film, from the precisely set cutlery, to the immaculate clothing choices. Byrne worked closely with Branagh and the cast to craft historically accurate looks with a fresh, vibrant feel and an air of intrigue to match the story’s setting. Since every passenger on the train is a murder suspect, and no one is who they appear to be, the costumes and accessories were an integral part of the plot.
“It’s a bit like being a backwards detective in that there are certain clues or indications you can give without giving too much away,” said Bryne. “It was important to be true to the characters and how they might have arrived at the looks that they’re using to disguise themselves.”
Since the majority of the film takes place while the train is stuck in an avalanche shortly after departing Istanbul, Bryne said she punched up the color palette to contrast the snowy white background. “I wanted color to be an important part of the storytelling,” she said. “You could do the early '30s and use all shades of brown, or you could be more adventurous since some of the colors people wore were quite strong and vibrant and in unusual combinations.”
Case in point: the plum evening gown Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, Caroline Hubbard, wears during a critical scene with Johnny Depp’s Edward Ratchett. Or the black and gold print robe Lucy Boynton’s character, Countess Elena Andrenyi, wears in her sleeping compartment.
Bryne’s favorite look? A ski suit she designed for Caroline Hubbard. “The first day on the train, Caroline is just coming from Istanbul so she’s wearing a dress with Syrian embroidery. The second day when they’re going into the mountains she’s wearing a ski suit because she’s dressing to be in the snow. It's all themed dressing, where there are just a few elements too many going on.”
Scroll through to see more of the film’s stunning costumes and sets—and see if you can solve the mystery.
Murder on the Orient Express opens Nov. 10.
Countess Elena Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton) and Count Rudolph Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin)“She’s a bit like a damaged butterfly,” Bryne said of Countess Elena Andrenyi, who is suffering emotionally in the wake of a terrible tragedy and makes only a few rare appearances with her ballet dancer husband Count Rudolph Andrenyi. “Is it day? Is it night? She’s lost track of that, and she’s just surviving in this prolonged existence. So she’s not a practical dresser. She’s a nocturnal being.”
Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley)“The '30s were just the beginning of mass production and a range of cheap clothing being available to all classes. Mary Debenham is a very young, independent working woman. She has to work as a governess to support herself. She’s very much an English rose, but she’s quite feisty,” said Bryne. “A huge component in costumes is the casting and Daisy Ridley has such energy and vibrancy that that feistiness is there already, so I played slightly against that with the clothing and tried to show as the story progresses that she’s not a woman with an extensive wardrobe. When they get stuck in the avalanche, her clothing, as opposed to being coordinated, has to become purely practical to keep warm.”
Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) and Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad)“Ratchett is a criminal. He’s traveling as a fraudulent art dealer so a lot of money is going through his hands,” Bryne said. “He’s someone who has money but absolutely not a clue on the dictates of clothing and about the class system. For an English gentlemen of the period, the most offensive thing you could do would be to dress above your class. There were very clear etiquette rules, and Ratchett just doesn't get it. Instead of his shirts being being made in cotton, they’re made in silk because he can afford it. So little details like that set his clothes apart.”
Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz)“Pilar is a missionary with quite a dark past. She wants to deny every feminine bone in her body; the challenge is how you do that without making Penelope look like she’s dressed up as a character,” Bryne said. “If her character were today, we would put her in trousers, but trousers in the '30s were a fashion statement so we couldn't do that. In one of the costume houses in Canada I found some really great, very heavy cotton drill culottes which seemed like a practical, robust solution to not wearing a skirt and not wearing trousers.”
Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) and Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman)“Princess Dragomiroff is a Russian princess who fled the revolution and is living in exile in Paris. Judi Dench brings so much—her elegance and her style and her fantastically twinkly eyes,” said Bryne. “I thought she’d be a woman who had developed her style and had kind of evolved it since the turn of the century but was rooted in the style she knew and she loved. And a woman of that class in Russia would probably change her clothes four or five times a day, so we tried to keep that going since she’s traveling with her maid. Women of her stature and her style would be very interested in Jeanne Lanvin designing in Paris at that time, so I used a lot of her clothes as influence.”
Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh)Branagh himself plays a lead role in the film as legendary detective Hercule Poirot—though Poirot’s mustache often upstages the man and serves as a symbol of his meticulous nature and attention to detail. His luggage even includes a grooming kit (and a sleeping mask!) to keep every hair in place. “Ken wanted the costumes to be authentic to the period, and he’s very fastidious about detail, but he also wanted it have modernity. The modernity came through choices of colors but also by trying to make the clothes be clothes and not costumes.”