Symmetry and Centrality as Power

The Use of Mise-en-scène to Create Power in Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile

  • Sahar Hamzah
Keywords: Branagh, symmetry, mise-en-scene, Agatha Christie, adaptation, Orient Express, Death on the Nile


A sense of power and control are often primary motivations for the actions of characters in film. This sense of power and desire for control can be documented in a variety of ways. In his directorial films Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, Sir Kenneth Branagh employs elements of mise-en-scène to convey the sense of power or powerlessness of his characters and their control or lack thereof in a given situation. This article explores the various means by which he achieves this through the use of such elements as blocking, set design, symmetry of images, camera angles, and costuming. In both of these films, the character of Hercule Poirot is the main seat of power. As such, he is often placed at the centre of a shot and all roads seem to lead to Poirot. When he is not in authority, he is placed off-centre in a shot, indicating that he has lost control of the situation, and other characters move to the centre. The set designs consist of repeated parallel lines in the architectural features, from door frames to wall paneling to paintings and windows, designed to serve as pillars of strength and stability. This is further enhanced by the symmetry of many of the images, used not to create a feeling of calm and serenity but to showcase strength and power. Camera angles also play a significant role in defining the power structure. The power of color is explored in costuming where, for instance, the vibrant burst of red among of sea of pale whites and creams draws attention to the character and indicates that she has come to dominate and conquer. Thus, the question of power and who wields it is an important element in these films and Branagh uses mise-en-scène to convey this to his audiences.

Author Biography

Sahar Hamzah

Dr. Sahar Hamzah is an Assistant Professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at the University of Houston. She received her Ph.D. in Media and Communication at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland.  She specializes in Film Studies and Adaptation.