Recently, I’ve been going through a lot of changes and suffering from exhaustion, so I decided, after a hard day, to treat myself to a trip to the cinema.
I’ve not been for since before the pandemic, and following a busy and stressful day, I thought I’d go watch a film that’s been delayed for more than 2 years.
The delays were partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and also because many of the film’s stars have faced criticism for their behaviour. While many of the stars, including Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot, have faced criticism and, in the case of Hammer, serious allegations, they remain some of the world’s richest and most influential stars. And, the film is helmed and directed by Kenneth Branagh, a man who has famously overcome his own scandals to enjoy a long and prosperous career.
He has already adapted Murder On The Orient Express, and while he definitely wasn’t my idea of Hercule Poirot, the film itself was enjoyable to watch. As such, I was looking forward to a good whodunnit film, even if it wasn’t exactly what I’d usually expect from a Poirot mystery.
To my surprise, from the outset, the latest adaptation of Death On The Nile is a disaster. The first scene, set in 1914, shows a captain you believe to Poirot, with his signature moustaches, announcing orders to go over a trench and attack a bridge later that day. Suddenly, an unshaven Poirot discusses the flight of the birds, and the fact that the wind has changed earlier than usual. He advises his moustachioed captain to attack immediately, which he does, despite his misgivings.
The operation is a success, but the captain dies by accidentally setting off a bomb, which Poirot tries to warn him about, without success. The detective is then seen in a hospital bed with a disfigured face and a despondent disposition. His girlfriend, who we later learn died, tells him to grow a moustache. This version of Poirot, who is later seen embarking on fast-paced dashes across the ship and striding about with a gun in his hands, is far too much of a traditional Hollywood action hero to be the peculiar little man with an egg-shaped head. Even his eyes, which turn bright green when he’s on the trail of the truth in the books, are sapphire blue in the film. It’s a small detail, but it’s very noticeable for Christie fans.
After the opening scene, the film’s narrative shifts to the film’s setting in the 1930s, with Poirot, now heavily moustached, attending a music club. He’s watching Salome Otterbourne, who isn’t the writer she is in the novel but a nightclub singer, perform. The first two dances, performed by Jacqueline and Simon and then, after he’s given his new job, by Linnet and Simon, are thinly veiled attempts to emulate the traditional film trope of dances used to emulate sex. Armie Hammer is not a gullible, stupid individual as we see him in the books, but a creepy rich boy in a vile moustache that makes him look like an unintentional parody of the cannibal sexist the media portrays him as. His hammy dancing and over egging the sexual aspects of the dancing make them look like a joke, rather than a serious sexual dance. The film does this well-worn trope incredibly unsuccessfully, and the result is a clumsy opener that only goes downhill from there.
Much of the film is different from the novels, and while that isn’t always a bad thing, in this case the changes don’t benefit the movie in any way. For a start, the characters aren’t all the same as in the books, and this significantly affects the plot and makes much of it highly unbelievable. Monsieur Bouc was in the Murder On The Orient Express novel, and Branagh’s film, and he brings him back in this adaptation instead of Colonel Race, the character who assists Poirot in the book. Bouc also acts as a replacement for the character Tim Allerton, as he attends the cruise, now panned as a wedding party, with his mother. Instead of a group of disparate strangers, the group is gathered deliberately by Linnet Doyle, nee Ridgeway, for her wedding celebration.
This makes it seem unusual when interloper Jacqueline de Bellefort, the former friend of Linnet and first fiancé of Linnet’s now-husband, Simon Doyle, joins the cruise. In the book and most adaptations, the Karnak, the liner the group travels on, is a luxury steamer and everyone on board is there for different reasons. As Branagh’s film has the party gathered by Linnet and Simon for their wedding celebration, it looks strange when Jacqueline arrives out of the blue. She’s vital for the plot, but she arrives alone with no other guests who are unconnected to the wedding party shown, making her arrival look strange and convenient. Also, Branagh’s adaptation has the boat’s staff leave the vessel at the end of every day, which is another useful but unlikely way to create a ‘locked room’ scenario.
One major missed opportunity that’s a real shame is the lack of attention to the scenery and costumes in the film. Bouc actually wears a zip-up hoodie throughout most of the film, and while these were worn in the 1930s, when the story is set, I doubt anyone on a luxury cruise would galavant around in one. The outfits and decor on the luxury liner were a great opportunity for the film to make the most of its enormous budget. There’s no opulence; the glitter is two-dimensional and looks flat on the screen. Colours on ties and jackets are made to stand out to set them apart, but I defy anyone to remember one signature look with any real clarity even minutes after the film finishes.
I expected a lot more from the outfits and scenery, but the film’s over reliance on CGI technology and lack of care when it comes to the costuming and makeup means that the film doesn’t have the obvious redeeming feature that you’d expect. The 1930s was a time of dwindling opulence, but those who were still going on luxury liners still had access to stunning costumes and retained their love of 1920s decadence. Instead of the beautiful pearls Linnet wears, which are viewed as a motive for her murder initially and are stolen, then found, then seen to be fake, the film gives the wealthy heiress a tacky looking Tiffany necklace with a huge yellow gem in the centre. The necklace looks like it’s made of plastic, and not at all like it’s an expensive and fashionable gem.
The film’s deviations from the original text, and from Christie’s style in general, are never more apparent than during a scene in which two characters are revealed to be lesbian lovers. The film is heavy handed in this reveal, with Branagh’s Poirot shouting at the two women while they admit the truth, which would have been unthinkable and subject to ridicule and abuse during the time when the film is set. In her books, Christie has characters who could be involved in these sorts of relationships, but it’s never directly revealed. In any subtle reveals, Christie is always understated and her characters are sympathetic, which is far from the case in this film.
There are some pockets of cinematic brilliance in the midst of all the dross, but unfortunately, these are few and far between. There’s a brilliant fight scene between Russell Brand and Ali Fazal’s characters over the dead body of Rose Leslie’s dispirited and highly unconvincing French Maid. Also, thanks to the addition of Bouc, who isn’t in the Queen Of Crime’s original story, there’s a brilliant bait and switch that keeps viewers on your toes until Branagh uses Bouc in a way I never expected. I won’t spoil the unique twist and inventive change the film makes to Christie’s iconic plot, but it really changed the story and is a great surprise to viewers. With so much of the film, such as Jacqueline’s arrival on the boat, being really obvious, it was nice to have one major surprise to catch you off guard.
Still, for the most part, Branagh’s Death On The Nile adaptation is a cinematic representation of the phrase ‘money can’t buy taste’. It’s an expensive film that throws its money into all the wrong places. It’s already not a great Christie novel to begin with, but the adaptation boasts many unnecessary changes and some frankly bizarre choices that make it almost unwatchable. I literally covered my eyes at some points. With so many comedy actors, including greats like comedy duo French and Saunders, I almost thought at times, that this was a parody, and it easily could’ve been if the actors weren’t all so serious and it wasn’t trying so hard. If you love Christie and her pernickety Belgium detective as much as I do, then I’d recommend you watch it once, but don’t rush out for it and definitely, if you can avoid it, don’t pay too much to watch. This film simply isn’t worth it.
2 thoughts on “Death On The Nile Review: How Did This Pile Of Hot Garbage Get Made?!”
This is a great story and there have been several good (IMHO) film versions made already, so why yet another remake? For me, it’s important to stick to the original story, not to take it off in different directions, so even before your honest review of the new release, I had little desire to see it. Now I know I don’t want to though!
It is a bit crazy- once it’s on streaming services if you spot it might be worth a shot but I wouldn’t pay for it. I love the Peter Ustinov version if you haven’t already seen it a hundred times!