Emboldened by the success of Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh has directed his cinematic adaption of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, whilst also starring as eponymous detective Hercule Poirot.
Due to the multitude of films, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is now just as famous as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. There have been two previous versions of Death on the Nile filmed (the 1978 film and the 2004 TV movie). As such, having another adaptation of this classic murder mystery might feel reductive.
It is perhaps for this reason why Branagh felt so compelled to deviate from the original story. Characters were consolidated, in order to streamline the plot and make it easier to follow. Unfortunately, this consolidation created some later plot holes.
It would be fair to say that David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot was exemplary and remains in the eyes of many as the definitive version of the fastidious Belgian detective. In Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh had quite successfully portrayed his own interpretation of the character, which he now builds upon in Death on the Nile.
Although Branagh portrays Poirot’s obsessive need for order and his rich accent, he also presented a far more emotional Poirot than viewers have seen before. Whilst it is true that Poirot does become angry in the books, it is usually in the form of a snapped rebuke, not shouting at people in fury.
Death on the Nile also presented a new element to the character, with a young Poirot serving in the first World War. This black-and-white prologue concludes with Poirot being permanently scarred, thus growing his signature moustache to hide the disfigurement. This was a significant deviation from Agatha Christie’s character of Poirot, who had not served in the World War 1. However, other than providing insight into Branagh’s version of Poirot, it contributed little to the film’s plot.
Branagh is joined by some truly exemplary talent, including Gal Gadot, Rose Leslie, Russell Brand, and even Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. Brand was probably the weakest, for whilst he was otherwise great in the role as the doctor Windlesham, his accent noticeably slipped every time he shouted.
The setting and scenery in the film look amazing and are wonderfully shot. The downside is that there appears to be significant amount of green screen used throughout the film, much to its detriment. This is most noticeable with the conflicting levels of lighting between the characters and the background. That said, the locations are truly sumptuous. The scenes are also brilliantly framed, making Death on the Nile interesting to watch.
Ultimately though, there is an over-indulgence in the visuals, with many scenes feeling overlong and staying past their welcome. This is a film that would have benefitted from a harsher editing process to give a more tightly-plotted narrative.
By further developing his own version of Poirot, Branagh has created a character that shares many of the same qualities as Agatha Christie’s classic detective but is quite different. This film would have been a fantastic murder mystery by itself, but in attempting to make this an adaption of Death on the Nile and providing a more emotional version of Poirot, they have hamstringed themselves and lessened the overall experience.