Death On The Nile was published in 1937, but it’s a testament to the lasting power of Agatha Christie’s storytelling that her ever-stylish murder mysteries remain as fresh and compelling today as they were 80-years-ago.
Given Christie’s popularity, Kenneth Branagh’s decision to revive her greatest detective—Hercule Poirot— or a new generation of cinema-audiences is a sound one. It’s also a brave one, given how firmly TV’s David Suchet established himself in the role. The result is a mixed-bag. Lush visuals bring a nostalgic sheen to 1930s Europe. A mostly A-list cast, mostly rise to the challenge in a fantasy where everyone is rich, beautiful, and jolly decent, if a little murderous.
Christie’s work was of its era—you won’t find much in the way of diversity in her books— so Brannah’s decision to add Sophie Okonedo and Letitia Wright, as a world-weary blues singer and her feisty niece, is also sound. In fact, the duo are by far the best characters in the film, adding much needed warmth and complexity to a playlist of mainly off-the-peg dull white folk.
While Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes used Conan Doyle’s source material as the basis for his rebooted character, Branagh has little to work with. Christie’s great detective is famously mutable—his background is sparse, and even his appearance changes from novel to novel. Fortunately Branagh’s Poirot stays well within the margins. Here, he’s a little younger than his paperback counterpart. His fastidiousness and obsession with detail has been evolved into a form of high-functioning autism. He’s also surprisingly funny. But, he’s basically the same Belgian whose little grey cells so famously unpacked 33 Christie mysteries.
Arguably Branagh, as both star and director, gives himself too much screen time. Yet, this is, after all, Poirot’s show and given that there are clearly plans to run big-time with this franchise, it’s sensible for Branagh to take the time to develop Poirot as a sympathetic and believable lead.
Death On The Nile was actually made in 2019, on the back of the success of Murder On The Orient Express. Has Brannah crafted another hit? Maybe.
Death On the Nile is slow burn—a very slow burn—and perhaps a little too self-indulgent at times. Its charm lies in its Old School Hollywood production values. It’s easy on the eye. It has a superlative blues soundtrack. And, in these days of stress and strain, who doesn’t love a little high-end glamour?