Few directors toggle as easily between high- and middle-brow as Kenneth Branagh. He’s directed Shakespearean adaptations, superhero films, mediocre Disney stuff, and even a misbegotten Jack Ryan reboot. Branagh has directed 19 films since 1989, although six of them have come out since 2017.
That run began with 2017’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, and now Branagh — whose successfully Oscar-grubbing autobiographical drama Belfast came out only last fall — has returned with a second installment in his Hercule Poirot mini-franchise, Death on the Nile.
Filmed prior to Belfast, and delayed multiple times due to both COVID and, presumably, complications involving the offscreen life of a certain cast member, Death on the Nile is a perfectly entertaining whodunit that goes deeper into Poirot’s personal history than this type of movie typically does. That said, I’d almost forgotten everything about it by the time I got back to the car.
Death on the Nile is based on the 1937 novel by Christie, and while Murder on the Orient Express was about a murder on a train, the new movie moves the action, mostly, to a boat. Once again, it’s a murder mystery set in a confined space in which anyone could be a suspect. This one, however, opens with a flashback to World War I, in which we’re shown how Poirot (Branagh) got the wounds that he covers with his famous facial hair.
A group has gathered, in an Egyptian resort and later on a boat cruise down the titular river, to celebrate the recent marriage of Linnet (Gal Gadot) and Simon (Armie Hammer, in one of the last projects he shot prior to his recent cannibalism-related cancellation.) Simon was recently engaged to Linnet’s best friend Jacqueline (Emma Mackey), who has shown up uninvited to the festivities.
As you may have guessed, somebody gets murdered, and suspicion falls on various people at different times. There’s Bouc (Tom Bateman), a mama’s boy, as well as his mama (Annette Bening). There’s a doctor, played by an unrecognizable Russell Brand, and a doctor (Ali Fazal), as well as a maid (Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie.) Intriguingly, there’s also Linnet’s godmother (Absolutely Fabulous veteran Jennifer Saunders), who happens to be a communist. And Sophie Okonedo plays a jazz singer, who’s accompanied by her niece (Letitia Wright.)
The plot turns the way it almost always does in a Christie story, with numerous red herrings throughout. The question of why Poirot is even there is among the many obfuscations.
The film is relatively well-shot and mounted, with the scenario gorgeous and the boat a fine and well-explored set. And the cast acquits themselves well, whether they’re big stars or not, with Hammer doing a decent job in what’s likely to be the last time we see him for a good while.
Entertaining as Death on the Nile is, it’s very disposable, and very much not a film that’s likely to stay with you.Watch Death of the Nile