Andrea’s film review – Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Review by Andrea Carnevali

While on vacation on the Nile, Agatha Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot must investigate the murder of a young heiress. Available to watch in cinemas now.

This is Branagh’s second attempt to adapt an Agatha Christie novel. The first time the result was stylish, star-studded, but ultimately lifeless and really rather pointless remake of the classic Murder on the Orient Express. The huge disappointment I felt watching that film, set the bar for Death on the Nile rather low and probably helped making it a little bit more digestible for me.

Over all it’s an old-fashioned film, both in its construction and its pacing, a bit ploddy and packed with rather dubious computer-generated imagery (mainly to reproduce its Egyptian settings).

The script is very much focused on following the original material pretty closely, despite some minor tweaks to here and there, mainly to do with some characters: different nationalities and skin colours for a start, whilst some have been completely cut out (possibly to allow more screen time to the main stars) and others have been swapped about.

For example, a novelist has now become a Blues singer, which allows the film to give us a couple of musical numbers.

None of the above changes the fact that most of these are clearly the stock characters who we’ve seen hundreds of times before. Branagh’s desperate attempts to make it feel more “modern” and “inclusive” by including for example a quick reference to lesbian love (so fleeting that it actually feels rather pointless), do little to elevate the source material beyond the actual whodunit mystery.

To me the stiffness and two-dimensionality of these characters does expose how dated the main source material is for today’s standards. Agatha Christie was a real pioneer in her days, over a hundred year ago. But her thrilling stories and mysteries have been copied over so many times by now, that sadly they seem to have lost some of that sparkle, that originality and the shock value they used to have.

In fact I’d go even further and suggest that if you’ve seen enough of these crime stories, it might be even easy to work out who the murderer is, even if you haven’t read the book or seen the previous film.

It’s difficult these days to watch Death on the Nile without thinking of the Christie-inspired Knives Out by director Rian Johnson, which with its clever writing, quirky performances, and sharp humour re-wrote the whole rulebook of the game and set new levels for the genre.

Branagh adds few surprises here and there. For example, without giving much away, there’s even an extra murder added to the mix, but the biggest and possibly most intriguing (and controversial!) change has to do with attempt to give Poirot a backstory and a girlfriend, hence a whole extra new layer of emotions to a character who up to now was rather devoid of any characteristics beyond his intelligence and great sense of observation.

One may argue why add all this, if it was never there in the book and nobody even asked for it? But whilst I’m sure this move will have some of Christie’s fans screaming “heresy!”, I actually thought it was an interesting direction, especially in a story where the murder is all about “passion” and “love”.

Alas Branagh, however much he is inhabiting his character quite comfortably by now, cannot quite integrate this backstory into the main murder mystery itself.

In the end he doesn’t really do much with any of this, aside from explaining the origin of the signature moustache, which incidentally in this film has been subtlety tweaked a bit, making it slightly smaller and less ugly to look at.

One can only hope that by the third time (will it be Evil under the sun? The bets are on) Branagh would have learnt all the lessons from his previous failings and will eventually be able to offer a great film. But for the time being this is just about “fine”.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.

Death on the Nile is available to watch in cinemas, including Chiswick Cinema, now

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