Having been delayed by Covid and cast controversy, Kenneth Branagh’s traditionalist whodunnit Death on the Nile finally sails into cinemas. But you have to wonder why it didn’t dock on a streaming service earlier, where small-screen expectations might have been more forgiving of shonky CGI and scenery mastication.
But we digress, mon amie – having solved the Murder on the Orient Express in 2017, Branagh’s ‘tached tec Hercule Poirot now finds himself at the heart of another crime of passion, this time when one of the guests on an Egyptian paddle steamer traversing the Nile is offed while asleep in their cabin.
Everyone on board is a suspect (though, curiously, not the numerous staff), having gathered to celebrate the wedding of beautiful heiress Linnet (Gal Gadot) and her penniless new hubby, Simon (Armie Hammer). Is the killer Linnet’s ex (Russell Brand)? Or maybe her godmother (Jennifer Saunders), or the latter’s jealous nurse (Dawn French)? Could it be the bitter maid (Rose Leslie), the jazz duo (Sophie Okonedo and Letitia Wright), or the former friend (Emma Mackey)? Don’t discount Poirot’s mate Bouc (a returning Tom Bateman) and his spiteful Ma (Annette Bening), or the slippery accountant (Ali Fazal), either.
As Poirot interrogates each in turn to the ominous thump of the paddle turning (like a heartbeat, see?), he uncovers romantic subplots involving race, same-sex relationships, class, and his own mustache’s origin story…
Filmed aboard a built-to-scale boat on Longcross Studios’ water tank, this is a handsome movie obsessed with the luxe detail of costumes, jewellery, furnishings, and Poirot’s endless puddings, but less worried about grounding events in any sort of reality.
Where the classic 1977 version (starring Peter Ustinov) filmed on location, Branagh uses unconvincing CGI (an uncanny valley of the kings, if you will) that distracts with every fake snake and digital pyramid. The acting register is similarly heightened. Gadot and Hammer are like mannequins attempting to mimic human ardour (especially when dry-humping an antiquity), while others gasp at revelations like they’re in a particularly wealthy am-dram production. “She’s melodramatic,” Hammer’s beau complains of Mckey’s scorned BFF, but she appears to be the only cast member tapping into real emotions and afforded any kind of nuance.
Still, there’s something comfortingly old school about a company of stars leaning into melodrama as Branagh lays on the accent. So while it won’t push the needle on Agatha Christie adaps, it’s as easily consumed (and easily forgotten) as one of the tiny cakes Poirot scoffs throughout.
Death on the Nile is in cinemas from February 11, 2022. For more, check out the most exciting upcoming movies heading your way.
3 out of 5
Death on the Nile review: “A glossy, undemanding confection”
A glossy, undemanding confection that doesn’t make waves, but shouldn’t be given a wide berth either.