Title: Death on the Nile (2022) Director: Kenneth Branagh Writers: Michael Green (screenplay), Agatha Christie (novel) Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Annette Bening, Tom Bateman, Russel Brand, Gal Gadot
Hercule Poirot goes on a vacation alone to Egypt to get some rest. What happens? He meets acquaintances by chance and is introduced to famous rich people as a result. What do we get? Scenes of opulent wealth and glamour; tragic fates, jealousy and, of course, murder. How do we react? We eat it up!
Kenneth Branagh took upon himself no small task when he set out to make a film with Hercule Poirot as the main character. Not only is Poirot well-known in the Western world, but the fictional Belgian detective has been portrayed numerous times by many great actors, both on film and stage. There is also a considerable variety in how he is portrayed, this is in contrast to, for example, the character of Sherlock Holmes. Would there be a beard in addition to the mustache? John Malkovich sported a goatee in his role as Poirot in the mini-series The ABC Murders (2018). Would he be obese? And how foppish would he be? David Suchet’s iconic portrayal of Poirot as a good-natured dandy who has mastered the English language, except for some common words and phrases the audience will understand from French, is simply unforgettable.
Fortunately, fans already know the answers to these questions, as this is the second installment of Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of Poirot, both as actor and director. Murder on the Orient Express (2017) was Branagh’s first attempt to create a film of one of Poirot’s cases. It was a great success. Death on the Nile is set in the same new universe as the first film and the story is based on Agatha Christie’s book of the same name. Two famous screen adaptations have already been made of the book, both with the same title.
The universe created by Branagh departs from that of the previous adaptation and gives us a Poirot that we can easily imagine as having been “one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police.” There is no humor to Poirot’s idiosyncrasies and the mustache is not meant to be elegant. But that is not to say Poirot does not have his funny moments. Branagh’s acting is on a par with the best. In the role of Linnet Ridgeway, a beautiful and almost friendless rich young woman is Gal Gadot. She plays the part well, but for me, she will always be Wonder Woman. Her friend, Jacqueline de Bellefort, is played by Emma Mackey. Jacqueline is no-money beautiful with maniacal glances. In other words, just as they came after the 1929 market crash.
The comedic duo Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French are also part of the cast. They have been given serious roles that fit them well. Also, their acting is amusing in just the right amount.
Armie Hammer was excellently cast in the role of Simon Doyle, the handsome young man who sweeps Linnet off her feet. But sadly the scandals involving the actor made the studio re-edit the film to reduce his screen time. This is unfortunate for the film as a work of art. In addition, the re-editing of Hammer goes too far in a late scene and an important plot point all but disappears.
The mind of Poirot is frequently brought into view with carefully placed camera shots that show symmetry. The colors are often heavily saturated and the contrast has been turned up. This works well on several levels: The film is set in Egypt with its scorching sun and the story in earnest starts with a couple’s idyllic honeymoon. We are also shown a young Poirot at the very beginning of the film that tells us how his story starts. That part is completely desaturated and makes the later colors seem even more intense. Among other effects are some computer-generated images and animations. Most of these blend in and should go unnoticed. Unfortunately some stick out like sore thumbs. In the end though these imperfections are minor.
Death on the Nile, long-delayed after scandals involving Armie Hammer, pandemic lockdowns, reshoots and the struggling film industry, is finally here. Was it worth the wait? Yes, definitely! The film is a beautiful testament to the story and character created by Agatha Christie. A must-see for Christie fans and most certainly a must-see for fans of Branagh’s first film.