Film Review: ‘Death on the Nile’

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Annette Benning, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Letita Wright

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Originally released in February 2022

Review by Miriam Atkinson

If you’ve read my previous review of Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, then you’ll know I wasn’t entirely sold on this new version of Poirot and the new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s works. For me the new film of Orient Express was too ‘Hollywood’ and too big and grand for what is quite a claustrophobia story. In Death on the Nile Branagh’s grandiose vision returned – however on this occasion the style actually fitted with the story it was telling.

I wasn’t surprised that Death on the Nile ignored the clunky set up given by its predecessor (Orient Express ends with Poirot summoned to Egypt due to a death on the Nile). Instead, after we have gotten through an unnecessary 8 minute backstory for Poirot’s moustache, the story properly begins with Poirot at a London club where he witnesses an interaction between Jacqueline de Belfort (Emma Mackey), her finance Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and friend Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). Weeks later, whilst holidaying in Egypt, Poirot encounters the trio again only now Linnet and Simon are married and Jacqueline is stalking them. Invited on the newlywed’s trip down the Nile with their friends and family, the guests start dying one by one as Poirot quickly tries to identify the murderer.

Jacqueline, Simon and Linnet are socialites and their upper class high society lifestyle fits with the grand wide shots, settings and styles that feature in these new Poirot adaptations. Particularly in the first half of the film there was an essence of classic era Hollywood glamour and the, at times, theatrical style of Branagh’s Poirot felt more at home here. For me, unlike Orient Express, these features better matched the tone and story of Death on the Nile. They gave substance and meaning to the story rather than being a stylistic choice with no purpose.

One of my big issues with the first film was that Branagh portrayed Poirot as quite bombastic and a very ‘in your face’ type of character. I was really pleased that Death on the Nile felt more like a murder mystery drama that happened to also include Poirot – rather than being the Hercule Poirot show. The classic Agatha Christie finale, where Poirot gathers the remaining characters to reveal the murderer, came across as more natural in this film. Here was a detective explaining the missing pieces of the puzzle to his audience rather than a man trying to show off his intellect. It was a small change overall but one I appreciated.

In fact during several sections of this film Poirot displays a wider variety of emotions compared to the first instalment. In Death on the Nile we saw Poirot experience happiness and hope and sadness and distress – rather than simply yo-yoing between smugness and anger. Death on the Nile does more to humanism Poirot and makes him seem like a person that could really exist in the world, which ultimately made the character more likeable to me. There are still moments where Poirot’s classic rigid and unfeeling logic do appear but these are incorporated better into the story. For example, when Poirot reveals he has been asked to spy on Rosalie (Letita Wright) to judge her character, Rosalie calls Poirot out on his clinical attitude and how he acts as though he is better than everyone else because of his intelligence. This encounter causes a reflection in Poirot and, as least in private, the audience does see the character demonstrate the previously mentioned emotions.

Unfortunately Death on the Nile did have a couple of noticeable issues. One of which was the very obvious use of CGI in some scenes. Filmed entirely in England, it was quite easy to tell which scenes had needed green screens due to the actors not meshing perfectly with the background.

Another problem is with the large ensemble of characters but, as the film is an adaptation, this issue can be traced back to the source material. While the focus of the story is rightly on the primary characters, sadly not all of the secondary characters felt as developed as each other. Some – such as Rosalie, Salome (Sophie Okonedo), Bouc (Tom Bateman) and Euphemia (Annette Benning) – were given moments to shine whereas other characters simply felt like they were there increase pool of people to be either murdered or held as suspects. While it shouldn’t distract from the main story I do wish the film had allowed us to get to know some of the secondary characters better.

For me Death on the Nile was one of those films that falls into the middle ground – not bad but not great. Overall I thought it worked better than Orient Express (although from reading other reviews I think I’m in the minority on this point). The film has its good points and bad points and is a fair adaptation of Agatha Christie’s work although several characters and plot point were altered to fit with the tone of this growing film series.

Given the mixed reception of Death on the Nile I was surprised to learn there are plans to make a third film based on a, as yet unnamed, lesser known Poirot story. Potentially this may prove to be a good move with fewer expectations placed on a story unfamiliar to most of the audience.

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