DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh

CAST: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Ann Turkel, Letitia Wright

RUNNING TIME: 127 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: Detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) investigates a murder on an Egyptian river steamer…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

It’s a good time to be a Kenneth Branagh fan, for not only has he just been nominated for multiple Oscars for his black-and-white semi-autobiographical tale Belfast, but thanks to the miracle of pandemic-enforced delays, the filmmaker now currently has two major movies playing in cinemas, one of which is sure to be just as big an audience hit as his current awards frontrunner – critically, though, there’s a little bit less to praise.

As with his previous Agatha Christie adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh’s version of Death on the Nile is a big Hollywood whodunnit starring some of today’s finest performers and a few notable thespians alongside Branagh, once again starring as Detective Hercule Poirot, the sleuth with a brilliant mind for deduction that’s as fabulous as his moustache (which is so outstanding that it even get its own origin story in the movie’s prologue). Whilst holidaying in Egypt, Poirot is drawn to the wedding party of heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and her new husband Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), which is attended by a slew of guests from Russell Brand’s doctor Linus Windlesham to jazz singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo), though the black sheep of the crowd is Simon’s bitter ex-fiancé Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), who has stalked the newlyweds through every step of their honeymoon. Things come to a head when, whilst onboard a cruise ship headed down the River Nile, a gruesome murder unfolds, and it is naturally up to Poirot to root out the killer and deduce their motivations behind the terrible crime.

Seeing how it is perhaps Agatha Christie’s most famous Poirot story after Murder on the Orient Express, many will probably be going into Death on the Nile knowing what the outcome is going to be, and despite a few significant alterations along the way it does follow the original story reasonably close. However, just as Branagh managed to do with his previous Christie adaptation, the fun is in the journey of getting to our familiar destination, and the filmmaker is having plenty of fun with the specific details and inhabitants of this classic story. Branagh the director has always had an eye for scope, and he indulges in the sheer spectacle of its vast, mostly-CG landscape with a playful sense of awe, akin to an old Hollywood filmmaker making the most of these sets and period costumes. On-screen, Branagh remains a delight as Poirot, neatly capturing the character’s eccentricity without sacrificing his humanity, and he shares some strong scenes with a good number of the cast, including a very lively Tom Bateman as the detective’s cheery friend Bouc, and Sex Education’s Emma Mackey who does the whole crazed former-lover schtick all too convincingly.

However, Death on the Nile perhaps suffers from a lack of concrete focus, at least until the murder itself takes place. Most of the film’s first half is scattered with soap opera sub-plots that often grind the movie to a halt, and at a rather slow pace which almost leaves you wishing someone would die, if only for something to actually happen. With Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh managed to find a way to move the plot along at a steady rate, with quick introductions to its characters and leaving key plot elements to be uncovered as the movie further progresses; here, though, most of it seems to unfold all at once, and it leaves little left to be uncovered by Poirot – and, extensively, by the audience – later on. By then, most of the pieces will have fallen into place so much that, even if you’re going into this story not knowing how it ends, the conclusion seems rather telegraphed and obvious, and you’re left to just wait until the good detective makes his final analysis. Other parts of the movie come across as a little odd in their execution, like the aforementioned prologue which features some de-aging effects that are more than a little into the uncanny valley, and a shot of Gal Gadot in full Cleopatra get-up for no reason whatsoever (other than to perhaps give the actress some experience before she actually plays Cleopatra in the currently-in-development epic).

Like its predecessor, Death on the Nile is certainly watchable, and made so by the frivolous efforts of its director and lead actor, along with a fine ensemble of actors who are all equally relishing in their screen-time – but in the long line of Agatha Christie adaptations that have come before it, don’t expect Branagh’s version to over-eclipse some of the other versions of this story any time soon. This is one that simply tells the classic story as best as it can, without straying too far from the established text, which might underwhelm familiar viewers expecting something fresh with this version, but prove serviceable enough for any newcomers.

As for Armie Hammer, whose appearance in the film was cast in doubt after those allegations came out against him, he’s perfectly fine here – though part of me does wish they went the full Christopher Plummer in replacing his performance, just to see how awkward the handling of it would have been.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Death on the Nile is a serviceable adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie mystery that director and lead actor Kenneth Branagh has as much fun as he can with, despite not straying too far from the familiar story.

Death on the Nile is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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