Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in a second Agatha Christie adaptation, but we’d rather he hadn’t.
This boat has been sinking for a long time now. Kenneth Branagh’s second outing as Agatha Christie’s fussy Belgian detective Hercule Poirot was initially scheduled for a December 2020 release, but plagued by pandemic delays and the problematic actions of various key cast members, it awkwardly shuffles into cinemas now, some three years after filming, with whatever the opposite of a fanfare is.
Even so, Kenneth Branagh was never going to let a pandemic hold him down. Death on the Nile follows his inexplicably successful memoir-drama Belfast, which rides high on a raft of Oscar nominations this week. Let it never be said the man doesn’t have range; he can make a dog’s dinner out of just about any genre.
There’s a parallel between Belfast and Death on the Nile in Branagh’s decision to provide a prologue this time around, shot in the same flat black and white as Belfast, in which a young Poirot demonstrates his strategic skills on the battlefield of World War One, saving his comrades from certain death, only to end up in a war hospital due to a mortar bomb incident. His face is badly scarred; his fiancée suggests, somewhat insensitively, he can grow a moustache.
Years later, following the events of Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot travels to Egypt for a holiday, to have a gander at the Sphinx and eat some Jaffa cakes. He happens upon Bouc (Tom Bateman) an old friend, travelling with his mother Euphemia (Annette Bening) as part of a wedding party, which the world-famous detective is invited to join. Heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) is honeymooning with new beau Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), whom she lured away from her friend Jacqueline (Emma Mackie) in a whirlwind romance.
They have assembled their nearest and dearest in Egypt for celebrations, including Lynette’s Communist godmother Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders) and her travelling companion Mrs. Bowers (Dawn French), her maid Louise Bourget (Rose Leslie) her ex-fiancé Linus Windlesham (Russell Brand), her cousin-slash-accountant Andrew Katchadourian (Ali Fazal), schoolfriend Rosalie (Letitia Wright) and her jazz singer aunt Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo). Unfortunately for the happy couple, they are being trailed by a bitter Jacqueline, who is – understandably – a bit angry her best friend ran off with her boyfriend.
It takes a rather long time to get to the actual death on the Nile; 70 minutes, in fact. Most of the time prior is spent establishing all the key players, which would be fine if any one of them was remotely interesting, but the happy couple are insufferable to the point the promise of someone’s imminent death seems quite welcome, and their assorted guests too numerous to really make for a tantalising ensemble (as fun as it is seeing French and Saunders shacked up as a pair of later-in-life lesbians). So,