Too Much Death On The Nile

Film

I have only my geekiness to blame. I should never have compared the three versions of Agatha Christie’s ‘Death on the Nile’. The novel was vintage Christie, combining the whodunnit with the author’s love of Egyptian antiquities to good effect. It’s also a key example of Christie misdirection, a classically constructed prestige concealed by shifting your loyalties to the wrong characters.

John Guillermin, the director of arguably the biggest blockbuster of the seventies, ‘The Towering Inferno’, directed the film version with an astounding cast. Seeing Bette Davis, Maggie Smith and Angela Lansbury with David Niven, Mia Farrow and Simon MacCorkindale was a joy to begin with, but the location work, coupled with a perfect score by Fellini’s composer Nino Rota made for a brilliant film version.

If one thing let it down a little, it was Peter Ustinov, never much of an actor, playing Poirot as a collection of mannerisms and not much else. Poirot is not the focus here, however, and Guillermin understands what makes Christie work; the rug-pull, which comes as a genuine shock. The film was made with help from the government because there were so many Egyptian Agatha Christie fans.

And so to Kenneth Branagh’s  reboot, presumably made because the studio copyright covers this and ‘Orient Express’. Much delayed by the pandemic and bizarre social media shenanigans, the film arrives on streaming services pretty much dead in the water.

The CGI Egypt is slick and stylish if clichéd, the wardrobe appropriately elaborate (the earlier version won an Oscar for Best Costume Design) and the casting more inclusive, with Sophie Okonedo particularly good as a jazz singer (although her two numbers slow the action). The ‘Karnak’ paddle steamer is stunningly recreated, its bevelled glass panels reminiscent of the sets for Branagh’s ‘Hamlet’.

There ends the good news.

Branagh is always eager to please, so he ramps up every element. Performances are broad, an extra murder and other crimes are thrown in to muddy the solution and Poirot’s ridiculous moustache gets its own pre-credit origin story in a sequence that appears to have been lifted from the French drama ‘Au Revoir Là-Haut’. But attempts to give Poirot a human face backfire badly, and the film’s deliberate old-fashionedness is ill-matched by anachronistic behaviour.

This is ‘Carry On up the Nile’, downgraded from film stars to TV stars, with Russell Brand and French and Saunders replacing Davis, Smith, Lansbury et al. All sense of danger or unease has been removed. Worse is a bizarre twerking dancefloor scene between Emma Mackey and Armie Hammer that feels absurdly inappropriate to the period. Patrick Doyle, a composer who has never knowingly produced a memorable score, does it again, and Poirot’s final scene attempts to build him up for a sequel which we must pray never comes. Stick with Bette Davis spitting, ‘This boat is becoming a mortuary!’

26 comments on “Too Much Death On The Nile”

  1. Paul C says:

    Agatha Christie’s husband Max Mallowan was an eminent Egyptologist and she often accompanied him on his gigs.

    The film looks like one to avoid, thanks. A real gem of a crime film also on release at the moment is The Outfit which I really enjoyed despite lukewarm reviews in the UK press. I might even see it again.

  2. SteveB says:

    The cast and production of the original film version are amazing, I just think the dialogue could be a little more sparkling.
    The Suchet version, which you don’t mention, is great fun.
    The Branagh film is just dire.

  3. Debra Matheney says:

    Agree. Branagh is dire as is the film. Overacted and boring. Even Annette Benning couldn’t help.

  4. Joel says:

    as i have never seen any of the of the ‘nile” movies, i should probably see this one first, then the bette davis one. and then the suchet version.

  5. Joan says:

    I disagree with everyone it seems, I loved it. I do agree the Nile Steamer was the star of the film, and the dance scene was a little jarring for the time period, but everything else was good. I rather liked the beginning which put Poirot in WW1, but I am a Poirot fan. I found Murder on the Orient Express very slow and overlong, but this wasn’t. This is best seen on the big screen (IMAX) to appreciate the stunning aerial shots if nothing else. I have been to Egypt and thought it was photographed very well, and I loved that the Murder took place off the Temple of Abu Simbel, perhaps over the original site before it was moved for the Dam. The Temple is amazing and a must see if you are ever on a Tour there. I haven’t watched it on TV as I don’t revisit films usually that I watch at the show, but I am sure that it will be diminished on the small screen. My only criticism was that it had to include Wokeness to make it more palatable for audiences seemingly!

  6. Stu-I-Am says:

    I wasn’t disappointed. But then I go to Agatha Christie screen adaptations (and especially remakes) with limited expectations — other than being pretty certain just about everyone will likely be ‘chewing the scenery.’ After some 30+ of them, her work seems to be considered irresistible paint-by-numbers canvases — with filmmakers substituting their own numbers as they see fit. I fully expected Branagh’s moustache to develop a life of its own. I will say the production and set designers did a very good job at Longcross Studios (Surrey) where, except for a few background scenes (and a good deal of CGI), the film was put together. And it does have several visual pleasures — along with very realistic looking, full-scale (about 33 meters high by 38 meters wide) carved polystyrene Abu Simbel temples.

  7. Joan says:

    Yikes, I guess it is better not to know Stu!

  8. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Joan Ah well — it’s all make-believe after all, isn’t it ?

  9. Joel Stein says:

    I’ve seen all three of the films. I enjoyed the first, was luke warm on the second and absolutely disgusted about the time I wasted watching this last one, by Branagh. Finally, I just shut it off in disgust and went to bed.

  10. Roger says:

    Moustache wrangler…

  11. J. Folgard says:

    This is yet another disapppointing return for this film, no friend of mine could say anything really enthusiastic about it either.
    I know you enjoy several european films and last night, with a couple of friends, we watched ‘Black Box’ in 4k, I think you might enjoy it -it was well-received here in France and Gozlan is a talented director! Here’s the link for the subtitled trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rv3RqTE5X-0

  12. J. Folgard says:

    Oh, and the sound mix is astonishing in it, it was even nominated for the Césars.

  13. Peter T says:

    For me, Suchet captures so well the Poirot of the books and the character of the intellectual Walloon that I can’t watch anyone else in the role. Ustinov plays him as a buffoon and Branagh seems to be a Shakespearian character in hot pursuit of a moustache.

  14. Paul C says:

    Re the new version, perhaps we should Suchet and see………sorry

  15. Alan R says:

    My wife is an Agatha Christie fan, I am not. I watched it dutifully with her and surprise surprise, I found myself really enjoying it. George Murphy’s visual efects were spectacilar on a big screen. I was was less taken with the Dawn French, Russell Brand and Jennifer Saunders contibutions. But I enjoyed it.

  16. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Paul C Paul, you wouldn’t happen to be Nile-istic, now would you ?

  17. Helen+Martin says:

    I’m a Suchet fan and really disliked Ustinov’s version. The mustache is important but should be discrete not the first thing you’re aware of and who needs an extra death or a bizarre dance scene? I haven’t seen the Branagh & somehow think I’ll miss it unless it appears on non-streaming tv. We really hang on to MS Christie, don’t we?

  18. Stu-I-Am says:

    For those who can not get enough of ‘The Moustache That Ate Kenneth Branagh’s Face,’ there is apparently to be a third Branagh/Christie adaptation — this one being promised as a ‘daring shift in genre and tone’ set in post-war Venice and based on a lesser-known (so far unnamed…) Christie novel. Since none of the Christie novels (to the best of my knowledge) are set in Venice, no doubt this shift in setting will be part of Branagh’s adaptation.

  19. Helen+Martin says:

    Most of her stories are fairly site specific and the Queen of the Adriatic is unique so shifting the comfy English to her rather watery shores would rub rather abrasively on the viewers’ minds, I would think.

  20. Peter T says:

    A river too far?

  21. BarbaraBoucke says:

    It is interesting to look up an Agatha Christie book title in Wikipedia and read the different ways the story was retold in a movie, television program, or some other media form. Sometimes the story alterations were minor – sometimes not so minor. Goodness knows which book is going to find its setting moved to Venice. I hope it’s not Evil Under the Sun, because that film was – for me – a classic.

  22. Stu-I-Am says:

    @BarbaraBoucke Barbara — interesting you should mention ‘Evil Under the Sun.’ You may recall the setting of the 1982 film adaptation (in which Peter Ustinov reprised his role as ‘Peter Ustinov’) was moved to a fictional island in the Adriatic (actually Mallorca) from the novel’s Devon location. Although not considered a ‘lesser-known’ Christie novel, I suppose it wouldn’t be a great creative leap to move the goings-on from a fictional ‘Adriatic’ island in a ‘Evil Under the Sun’ remake to the ‘Queen of the Adriatic,’ although since Poirot appears in 33 Christie novels there was plenty of settings to choose from for Branagh to change. Apparently the script has been written so that has been decided and we will have to continue to guess until told where Branagh’s moustache will next appear (no doubt with ‘above the title’ billing).

  23. BarbaraBoucke says:

    Thanks Stu. I remember the whole setting of the film, and how spectacular it was to watch it on the “big screen” with the music and the actors. I almost think the story benefited from setting it on an island. Agatha Christie had other sleuths aside from Miss Marple – Tommy and Tuppence and Parker Pyne come to mind. I just hope Mr. Branagh doesn’t decide to take one of those stories and reinvent it with Poirot as the sleuth.

  24. Helen+Martin says:

    Barbara, just thinking of possible Tuppence lines for Poirot to utter is enough to start off a fit of hysterics.

  25. BarbaraBoucke says:

    Very true, Helen.

  26. Liz+Thompson says:

    My thanks for warning me off this.

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