Perhaps the most compelling reason that Agatha Christie’s murder mystery novels endure is one central premise: everyone has something they want to hide. Following on from Murder On The Orient Express released in 2017, director and star Kenneth Branagh once again teams up with screenwriter Michael Green to produce a sequel, Death On The Nile.
Adapted from the Christie book of the same name, Belgian detective extraordinaire and stimulator of ‘the little grey brain cells’, Hercule Poirot, becomes embroiled in a mysterious crime after being invited to join the lavish Egyptian wedding cruise of rich socialite Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and her new husband Simon (Armie Hammer).
Many of Christie's novels are so soaked in the stylish trappings of the 1920s and 30s British upper middle classes that whenever a new adaptation comes along there is plentiful scope to drench the screen in period decoration.
After a brief introduction (which humanises Poirot in such a way that will either intrigue you or repel you, depending on how slavish you wish to remain to the text) Branagh wastes no time in using wide establishing shots to fill the screen with as much Egyptian opulence as he can.
As with Murder On The Orient Express, another all-star cast has been assembled for this ensemble.
Joining Gadot and Hammer are the likes of Russell Brand (surely his most straight-faced role?), Sophie Okonedo, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, Annette Benning, Tom Bateman returning as the likeable Bouc, and of course Branagh himself as the fussy little Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.
Perhaps learning his lesson from his previous adaptation, Branagh ensures that the cast gets plenty of screen time each (even if they rarely rise above a two sentence character summary), reserving some choice shots and surprising moments of emotion for himself.
Is Death On The Nile Worth Watching?
This Poirot regrets a past love. He has to both quell a quavering voice from anger and from loss as matters escalate. It may not be book accurate to portray the man that Christie herself described as ‘insufferable’ this way, but Branagh’s gently assured performance gives the character some welcome twinkle in the eye.
The joy in any Christie novel is the setting up of a melting pot of motivations and red herrings. Death On The Nile lacks this element, despite the cast knocking back cocktails and shooting dark looks with the best of them.
This isn’t helped by Linnet and Simon’s wedding troupe being on the go for a large chunk of time. It isn’t until we get setting locked within a boat on the titular Nile that subterfuge gets the chance to bubble away.
And yet there are no whispered conversations privy only to us, the audience. No moments riddled with loaded dialogue that could be read multiple ways.
Despite Branagh giving more screen time to those around him, he is still usually present in any given scene. This leaves no sense of the characters seething on their jealousies and motivations independently of Poirot’s presence, which ultimately weakens the impact of eventual reveals.
The folly of human weakness is hardly drawn upon, with characters slotting into place too mechanically to make much impact once their secrets are laid bare.
Death On The Nile reaps the benefit of big budget style and star wattage in the lead roles. Plus, it is certainly welcome to have a Poirot who possesses a little sorrow within his demeanour beyond highly particular quirks.
Sure, if you pull back the curtain then you will see clicking cogs of filmwork rather than the fluid flow of human nature. But if you draw that curtain closed again you can marvel at the pretty gilded quality of the material and be pleased that your betters have let you tag along for the ride.
Words by Mike Record