VOD film review: Death on the Nile
James R | On 03, Apr 2022
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Sophie Okonedo, Letitia Wright, Ali Fazal, Russell Brand, Annette Bening, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey
“A person in love would do anything,” muses Hercule Poirot partway through Death on the Nile. Played once again by Kenneth Branagh, the Belgian detective made famous by Agatha Christie’s iconic novels is once again given surprising new depths.
Branagh’s interpretation of Poirot was the best thing about his Murder on the Orient Express, as he brought out an obsessive-compulsive streak that leaves Hercule at the pained mercy of his need to find order in a messy world. Here, he doubles down on that rational drive by rooting in what the character now views as the irrational whims of romance. Beginning with a World War One flashback, we meet Poirot as a young soldier in the trenches who smartly devises a way for his battalion to gain the upper hand in the conflict – but an unexpected turn of events leads to his growing of a moustache, and a poignant loss leaves him retreating from the world and hiding behind it.
So far, so intriguing – but when the best part of your Agatha Christie adaptation is an invented prologue that’s more war movie than murder mystery, you know something’s gone wrong somewhere. Michael Green’s script is a smart enough reworking of the source material, deftly removing or updating some more problematic characters and instead introducing the continuity of Poirot’s friend, Bouc (Tom Bateman), who invites him aboard a wealthy couple’s cruise.
The pair in question are Linnet Rideway (Gal Gadot) and new hubbie Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), whose honeymoon becomes a crowded voyage of would-be suspects, from jazz singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) and her niece, Rosalie (Letitia Wright), to Linnet’s slimy lawyer (Ali Fazal), Dr Linus Windlesham (a straight-faced Russell Brand), Bouc’s controlling mother, Euphemia (Annette Bening), and Linnet’s stereotypical French maid, Louise Bourget (Rose Leslie). Also on board is Jacqueline (Emma Mackey), Simon’s ex-lover who engaged to him only a few weeks ago. So when a corpse turns up on board, there’s no shortage of people to point the oar at, and Poirot wastes no time in interrogating everyone in his brash, abrupt style.
The plotting is perfectly adequate, but the starry casting undoes a lot of the spectacle of the location and glossy camerawork, whether it’s Gal Gadot’s over-elaborate bride or the needless use of English actors putting on foreign accents. The presence of Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French as a rich employer and her companion only emphasises how close to parody the entire thing is. Most fatal of all, though, is the unfortunate presence of Armie Hammer at the centre of the film, which renders any romantic components of the story cringe-inducingly awkward, no matter how convincingly intense Sex Education’s Emma Mackey is.
The only one to emerge unscathed is Branagh’s Poirot, whose gently simmering chemistry with Sophie Okonedo’s Salome is the heart of the otherwise superficial whodunnit, along with the sincere affection he holds for his friend, Bouc. “You could never understand what people would do for love,” Hercule is told, loudly, halfway through. It’s a clunky piece of dialogue, not least because it misses the fact that Poirot really does understand – and that underlying emotional current is almost enough to hold this bombastic, ripe soufflé afloat.