After the success Kenneth Branagh’s blockbuster film Murder on the Orient Express enjoyed in 2017, it wasn’t long before Poirot and his absolutely ludicrous moustache would return to the big screen again. Branagh’s recent adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1937 whodunnit Death on the Nile welcomes back all the tropes of any good mystery film — an unlikely suspect, misleading clues, and a twist ending. The glittering A-list star cast features Sex Education’s Emma Mackey as Jacqueline de Bellefort, Call Me by Your Name actor Armie Hammer as Simon Doyle, and comedian Russel Brand as Linnet’s old beau Dr Windlesham.
Poirot arrives in Egypt sporting a suit pressed to a crisp and an impeccably groomed moustache. He looks conspicuously out of place (who couldn’t with a ‘stache that size?) munching on a ‘sublime Jaffa cake’ and two hard-boiled eggs. A not-so coincidental re-encounter with Bouc, Poirot’s long-standing friend and big shot at the train company that managed the Orient Express, kickstarts the action. Poirot reluctantly accepts an invitation to celebrate the wedding of Linnet and Simon Doyle on a glamorous river steamer with an entourage of friends to try and relax. Spoiler: It isn’t long before Poirot is exercising those ‘little grey cells’ again.
Scenes of Canapés, starch white linen and ‘enough champagne to fill the Nile’ ensue. Miss Marie Van Schuyler, a moralising American socialist, offers a running commentary on the ‘obscene opulence’ of it, all while keeping a ‘maid’ that she visits after hours. Everything seems to be going swimmingly well until, lo and behold, Simon’s jealous-crazed ex-fiancé Jacqueline shows up. Suddenly Linnet is on the sleeping pills, and a scarf and pot of red paint have been misplaced. 3 murders and a theft later, it’s safe to say the honeymoon period is over.
The novel Death on the Nile belongs to the ‘Golden age’ era of detective fiction, of which Agatha Christie is reigning queen. The genre favours a cast of upper-class characters and a secluded setting which is disturbed by a crime. Branagh’s heavy use of CGI certainly does seclude the characters from the vistas of the Egyptian pyramids; at times it feels as if you are watching a PowerPoint slideshow unrolling. However, the ensemble of suspects, each with their own resentments and secrets, keeps the viewer guessing the identity of the culprit until the very end. Poirot too accuses just about everyone of murder until he hits the nail on the head in the final ten minutes.
The tension reaches a climax when Poirot announces that he has one final interview to conduct. ‘I am air-kyul pwahhhhh-roh’, he thunders, gun pointed in the air as he locks the guests — murderer included — into a single room. Branagh’s accent verges on the ridiculous and leaves one wondering why the director could not have employed a Belgian actor. The black-and-white episode featuring a young — and moustache-less — Poirot navigating through the trenches in 1914 at the beginning of the film is a nice touch, offering a melancholic portrayal of the detective which foregrounds the film’s exploration of the lengths to which people will go for love, while explaining why Poirot is so indifferent it.
Death on the Nile is by no means a cinematic masterpiece. A heavy use of CGI and a noticeable lack of chemistry between characters can make the film seem saccharine and artificial at times. It is, however, heavily indebted to Agatha Christie, to who full credit should go for providing an intricate plot which is both stimulating and entertaining.
Image Credits: Jeremy Horvatin via UnSplash