Director and star Kenneth Branagh succeeds with Agatha Christie’s ‘Death on the Nile’
As an actor, Sir Kenneth Branagh is brilliant as Hercule Poirot, Dame Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective.
As a director, Mr. Branagh has captured the spirit of Ms. Christie’s murder mysteries, first with “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017) and now with “Death on the Nile.” In fact, he, screenplay writer Michael Green and a talented cast have expanded on Ms. Christie’s story while staying true to its original tone.
The result is a great film, a step up from the good production of “Murder on the Orient Express.” This writer hopes Mr. Branagh continues to tackle Ms. Christie’s mysteries.
Mr. Branagh’s take on Poirot is darker than actor Peter Ustinov, who had fun with the character when he played the detective in a half-dozen movies starting with the 1978 version of “Death on the Nile.”
Like Mr. Ustinov, Mr. Branagh shows the character’s keen sense of observation, the gears working in his brain, his quick wit (with a straight face) and his ability to find moments of joy in unexpected places.
The new version of “Death on the Nile” adds something that wasn’t in Ms. Christie’s novel: a backstory for Poirot. Viewers find out more about why Poirot lives a lonely life and why he grew his dramatic mustache.
The backstory fits in nicely with “Death on the Nile,” which features some great blues music.
The plot is set in the backdrop of the Giza pyramids, and there was some second-unit, on-location shooting in Egypt. But filming in Egypt proved too difficult, so the primary filming was done with computer-generated imagery and a ship in England. By contrast, the 1978 movie was filmed during seven weeks in Egypt and gives a better sense of that location for that reason, but Mr. Branagh and his crew succeed in making you feel you’re on an exotic cruise.
In any case, it’s 1937.
Poirot is trying to take a relaxing vacation on a river steamer on the Nile, at the invitation of a newly married couple, Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and Linnet Ridgeway Doyle (Gal Gadot of “Wonder Woman” fame). Along the way, he runs into his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), last seen with Poirot in “The Murder On the Orient Express” and Bouc’s mother, Euphemia (Annette Bening).
Poirot’s unexpected reunion with Bouc will stand out as one of the most clever ones in the history of movies. It won’t be spoiled here.
The Doyles have invited a big group of friends on their honeymoon cruise, but someone shows up who wasn’t invited: Jacqueline (Emma Mackey), who was Simon’s fiancee until Jacqueline introduced him to Linnet. Jacqueline has been stalking the couple.
It doesn’t take long to figure out who will be killed and who the likely killers are. But watch carefully because Dame Agatha Christie has a knack for fooling her fans. In his directing role, Mr. Branagh leaves enough clues to help viewers, but only if you pay close attention. The clues leave the screen as fast as they appear.
The casting for this movie is great. The actors play their characters with sincerity, especially Ms. Gadot, who knows how to use her facial expressions and eyes to convey a variety of emotions in a realistic way.
There are subplots in the movie, including the romance between Brouc and Rosalie Otterbourne (Letitia Wright). Ms. Wright plays that part with conviction and finesse. Fans of superhero movies will recognize her from “Black Panther,” and her character from that film, smart and witty genius Shuri, will be back in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” now in production.
Rosalie’s mother is blues singer Salome, whom Sophie Okonedo plays with spunk and flair. It’s a creative reimagining of the novelist Salome whom Angela Lansbury played in the 1978 film, and Poirot seems intrigued with this version of Salome.
As always, Ms. Bening is a pro at defining memorable characters and adds to every scene she’s in.
The most brilliant acting is by Mr. Branagh, who was recently nominated for a record-breaking seven Oscars for another movie he directed, “Belfast.” Mr. Branagh is talented in everything from the use of his voice and his physicality to the way he can stare into a room. It’s hard to imagine a better choice to play Poirot. Mr. Branagh is that compelling.