In Death on the Nile, a wealthy woman (Gal Gadot) is murdered on a honeymoon cruise down the Nile, surrounded by people who have reasons to want her dead, including the school friend she stole her new husband from. Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) tries to prevent the tragedy, but can only find out who actually did it.
Death on the Nile is actually my favorite Poirot story and so I had to see this most recent adaptation. Here are my thoughts on the film.
This is a visually beautiful film, particularly once you get on board the ship. The way the ship, its cabins, and all the aspects of it are shot is flawless. The visual direction is really superb throughout. There’s one scene of Poirot questioning a suspect that’s just a delight to watch.
Branagh is a very good actor and turns in a solid performance, with some great emotional moments. Gal Gadot was great as the murdered woman, showing her versatility as an actress. The rest of the cast is solid with not a bad performance among them.
While I’ll have plenty of critiques of changes to Christie’s story, one that I actually like is the change of Salome Otterbourne’s character from a writer of trashy romance novels to a blues singer. It’s not a pointless change. It works well for the film in that it adds some great moments of blues music to the movie’s background and gives it a very good sound.
Much like the later episodes of the Poirot TV series, this film can’t seem to avoid tinkering with Christie’s plots in ways that just don’t work and aren’t consistent with Christie’s talent or style. Even if you hadn’t read the book, if you’d read any other Christie stories, I think you could tell which elements were originally Agatha Christie’s and which were tacked on, which is a sign of a weak adaptation.The movie has Poirot take on an investigation one couldn’t imagine him taking. Then we have the action-packed chase scene, and a ridiculous moment in the denouement in which everyone draws weapons.
Agatha Christie intentionally left much of Poirot’s history as a bit of a mystery. Fans are free to speculate and have their own “head canon” about it. However, if a film is going to broach the subject of Poirot’s past and give him more backstory, it has to be something that’s more interesting than the central mystery. The film fails in that. It attempts not only to deepen Poirot’s backstory, but to give us the origin story of his mustache. The beautifully black-and-white scenes of Poirot serving in World War I are problematic. It’s not just because it contradicts the first Poirot novel A Mysterious Affair at Styles, which had him as a Belgian refugee. Nor is it the fact that Death on the Nile was set in 1937, and therefore if Poirot had served World War I, he would be younger than he was in this movie. It’s that the six-minute scene isn’t that interesting and delays the start of the film. I would compare it to another much-maligned scene in a Gal Gadot movie, Woman Woman 1984. The film features a long scene of young Diana competing in Amazonian games. However, that scene, for all its faults, actually fits into the theme of the movie.
The film often has its 1937 characters behaving in a very modern way, which makes it not ring true. One scene that sticks out is when Jacqueline “Jackie” de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) meets her old college friend and brags about how much sex she and her fiancé have been having, in the most awkward way possible.
In addition, while every adaptation has to pare down the massive cast of characters and plotlines Christie put in the original book, it felt like this film went just a little too far, to the point that it felt ever-so-slightly dumbed down.
Death on the Nile has good acting and is expertly shot, with some very clever visuals. It’s at its best when it’s telling Agatha Christie’s story. However, its mediocre add-on plot elements are often distracting, boring, poseurish, or cringe-inducing. The result is a mediocre and uneven experience that has doses of delight and frustration mixed in equal measures.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0
As of this writing, you can watch the film for free on Hulu or HBO Max and it’s also available for purchase on Amazon.
If you don’t want to see the new film, you can watch the 1978 classic version on Freevee.
You can also read why I love the original novel of this story so much here.
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