Agatha Christie is only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare. The British mystery novelist has been popular with Hollywood for a long time as well. TV and the big screen both love the potential for sprawling casts and memorable sleuths that Christie served up. The latest adaptation of her work is now in theaters after a long pandemic delay, and it’s quite entertaining. Death on the Nile creates an effortless glamour out of beautiful people in stunning locations with artful direction to top it all off.
Though of course slightly different from the novel of the same name, this film follows famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh). His vacation in Egypt in 1937 is interrupted by the murder of a newlywed heiress, Linnet Doyle (Gal Gadot). Only he can untangle the web of unspoken conflict between the various suspects to find the truth.
“Little Grey Cells”
Branagh also directs this film, following the success of 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express. His Poirot is an engaging character to build a cinematic universe around. He’s fussy but sharp-eyed and has a touch of self-importance. And his mustache is an entity unto itself. He also has a nose for romantic drama, which this case needs. Linnet’s new husband Simon (Armie Hammer) was previously engaged to her friend Jaqueline (Emma Mackey), and the tension is high.
You can probably tell that this is one of Christie’s lustiest stories. Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green take full advantage of that. The staging of many scenes is steamy. Green also tends toward melodrama in his adaptation technique but that suits this tale better than it did Orient Express. The desert heat is more conducive to heightened passions than a snowbound train, after all.
As a director, Branagh has proven himself talented from an early age. He is advancing his style with each film he helms. For example, the circular tracking shot he always uses once in his films has evolved. This signature camera move is there but Branagh also makes his camera more mobile. He uses more tracking shots in general, creating the sense that it sees things in the same way Poirot does. Branagh takes full advantage of the Egyptian locations too. His current Oscar nomination for Belfast is no fluke.
“One of You”
A classically trained stage actor, Branagh can be relied upon in front of the camera as well. Poirot as he plays the character is more emotionally transparent than he was in the previous film. This is a good development in the event that more Branagh/Christie adaptations happen. This world feels like just as strong a fit for Branagh as Shakespeare.
The cast is always part of the draw for murder mysteries because they provide ensembles filled with recognizable names. This is true here, but Branagh also seems eager to introduce audiences to lesser-known actors as well. Because of that, we get Annette Bening and Ali Fazal in the same cast. A couple of standouts are Sophie Okonedo (check out her singing!) and, if you can believe it, Russell Brand.
These photogenic people are given ugly things to do to each other in this story, which creates juicy contrast. For love or money, human behavior isn’t always pretty. Christie knew this and wrote about it, and it’s ready-made for cinematic presentation. The plot of Death on the Nile is fun and always interesting. It looks incredible as well. If Branagh and the rest of his crew sustain this level of production, I for one will be in the audience for another journey to solve a murder.
4 stars out of 5
Death on the Nile is now in theaters.