Death on the Nile is the second Hercule Poirot story to be given the Kenneth Branagh treatment, following on from 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express. With a star-studded cast, an opulent setting and Branagh in place as both the titular detective and director, you’d expect big things. However what unfolds feels rather dull, empty and predictable.
The film opens on a young Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) in the trenches of Belgium in World War I, where his smart thinking saves his entire battalion from slaughter, only to find himself injured by an explosion. In the hospital, we meet the love of his life and learn the origin story of his very famous moustache. We then jump to the present day, where the older Poirot is attending as a guest in a club in London. Here he witnesses the talents of jazz singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) and her manager and niece Rosalie (Letitia Wright). He also sees Jackie de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) introduce her fiancé Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) to her childhood best friend Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot), who immediately takes a shine to Simon.
Six weeks later, Poirot is on vacation in Egypt when he bumps into his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) and his mother Euphemia (Annette Bening). Bouc invites Poirot to join him and his mother for dinner with their friends, who happen to be celebrating the wedding of Linnet and Simon as they arrive on their honeymoon. Joining Linnet and Simon are her long-time maid Louise (Rose Leslie), her godmother Marie (Jennifer Saunders and her travelling nurse Bowers (Dawn French), cousin Andrew (Ali Fazal) who looks after Linnet’s contracts and will, Linnet’s ex-fiancé Linus (Russell Brand) and Salome and Rosalie Otterbourne, who is an old school friend of Linnet.
Also joining them is unwanted guest Jackie, who appears to be stalking the couple after Simon broke off his engagement with her. Requesting Poirot’s help to stop Jackie, Linnet and Simon decide to take their guests on the cruise ship S.S Karnak, to spend their remaining honeymoon travelling down the Nile. However, after an excursion off the ship, the guests return to find Jackie on board and soon one guest winds up dead, leaving Poirot to investigate as the bodies pile up.
I will confess that I hadn’t been a fan of Murder on the Orient Express, so my expectations for Death on the Nile had been low, and I’m afraid it was everything I thought it would be. Like its predecessor, this film suffers from being incredibly drawn out and long-winded and while the runtime might only be 2 hours 7 minutes, it feels like it’s on for double this and more. Branagh is a talented filmmaker and actor, but here he’s just taking it too far – it takes over an hour for the film to reach the titular death. Every scene, every conversation goes on for far longer than it should and the entire film spends far too much time showcasing its extravagance and opulent setting. I wouldn’t have minded so much had this setting felt real, but the CGI heavy green screens are incredibly obvious throughout and you never really feel like you’re in Egypt at all.
The cast too suffers, and aside from Branagh who brings some much-needed fun and humour from Poirot’s quirks and mannerisms, nobody comes out unscathed. This is partly because there’s a mishmash of ridiculous accents, from Jennifer Saunder’s American to Rose Leslie’s French, and also due to a lack of care for any of the characters. Aside from Bouc, they’re all so unlikeable and despicable that it’s difficult to muster any interest in the outcome. Branagh is great as Poirot and Tom Bateman brings some welcome boisterous energy as he did in the first film, but the rest of the cast are given no chance to shine.
The film does pick up a little in the final act when Poirot’s sleuthing picks up speed as he makes his final conclusions, but for me, the big reveal as to whodunnit was incredibly predictable. This of course is down to Agatha Christie’s original book, presuming it has the same ending, but while Murder on the Orient Express suffered from an unbelievably preposterous ending, Death on the Nile has the opposite problem.
After the wonderfully engaging Knives Out breathed new life into the sleuthing murder mystery genre, Death on the Nile struggles to get anywhere close to this level of excellence. The result is instead a rather dull, empty affair that only becomes interesting in its final moments.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!