One thing you can say about Kenneth Branagh, at the very least he’s consistently inconsistent.
Just when he demonstrated how much better he is behind the camera than he is in front of it with 2021’s acclaimed (and potentially Oscar-nominated) “Belfast,” he follows it up with his latest unnecessary Agatha Christie remake “Death on the Nile” (20th Century Studios). Branagh’s obsession with remaking both mid-1970s movie versions of Christie adaptations (including his lackluster 2017 take on “Murder on the Orient Express”), as well as his insistence on playing Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, may be the biggest mystery of all.
Borrowing some of the black and white techs he put to good use in “Belfast,” director Branagh opens “Death on the Nile” monochromatically in Belgium during World War I where a young Poirot (Branagh) utilizes his deduction skills to overtake the enemy with a (mostly) a low number of casualties among his fellow soldiers. The scene and its aftermath, which goes on too long, offer a kind of explanation for Poirot’s signature facial hair.
Fast forward to London in 1937 where Poirot is at a popular live music club where blues singer Salome (Sophie Okonedo), looked after by her adopted daughter Rosalie (Letitia Wright), is the star attraction. Among the couples bumping and grinding on the dance floor are Jackie (Emma Mackey) and Simon (Armie Hammer and his impressive chest pelt). However, once heiress Linette (Gal Gadot) arrives, the temperature in the room increases greatly. After Jackie shares the news of her engagement to Simon with old chum Linette, she encourages the new acquaintances to have a dance. Jackie also asks Linette to offer Simon employment, which she does.
Six weeks later, while having tea in front of the Great Sphinx in Egypt, Poirot “bumps” into close friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) who is flying a kite near the top of a pyramid. Bouc and his controlling mother Euphemia (Annette Bening), are among those who have gathered to celebrate the forthcoming nuptials of Simon and Linette. That’s right! Before you can say, mantrap, Linette stole Simon right out from under Jackie!
Among the other invited guests present at the First Cataract Hotel in Aswan are Linette’s left-leaning godmother Marie (Jennifer Saunders) and her nursemaid Bowers (Dawn French), Salome and Rosalie, Linette’s former fiancée Dr. Windlesham (Russell Brand), Linette’s “cousin” and financial man Katchadourian (Ali Fazal), and Linette’s maid Louise (Rose Leslie). Around the time that Jackie crashes the party, Linette confides in Poirot that she doesn’t trust any of those around her and enlists his services. In an attempt to escape the threat of unstable (and pistol-packing) Jackie, the group boards a luxury steamboat to take in some of the sights.
While onboard the vessel, the body count mounts, beginning with Linette (shot in the head at close range while sleeping), then Louise (throat slashed) who witnessed Linette’s murder, and Bouc (shot in the throat), who also has valuable information. Poirot interrogates each and every passenger, all of whom he considers to be the potential killer(s). However, due to the lack of ambiguity and nuance, even the most average gumshoe could figure out “whodunit,” and fairly early on, for that matter.
Spoiler alert for those lacking gaydar: Branagh does deserve credit for casting Saunders and French (co-creators of “Absolutely Fabulous”) as a couple, with Saunders supplying the right amount of butch haughtiness. Regardless, “Death on the Nile” is a minor improvement over “Murder on the Orient Express,” but would it kill Branagh to turn Poirot over to a better actor?
Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.