Death on the Nile Adaptation Proves Mediocre

Zoe Fenner, Sports Editor

Agatha Christie, the lauded “queen of mystery,” has enthralled generations of readers with her bone-chilling murder mystery novels. After adapting Christie’s prose to the big screen in Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh returns to his roles as director and Hercule Poirot, the world-famous Belgian detective. Branagh embarks on another labor of love in Death on the Nile, an ominous “whodunit” adventure filled with opulence, betrayal, murder and love set on the expansive Nile river. 

Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and Jackie Bellefort (Emma Mackey) pose for a photograph. All photos courtesy of IMDB.

In a vibrant speakeasy, Poirot’s watchful eye observes Jacqueline “Jackie” de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) introduce her fiancé, Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) to her wealthy, beguiling best friend, Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). Viewers can see that Linnet and Simon are instantly attracted to each other (If they manage to ignore the frigid stiffness between Gadot and Hammer). Six weeks later, Poirot is invited to a lavish honeymoon party in Egypt by Bouc (Tom Bateman), an old friend. To Poirot’s surprise, the party is hosted by newlyweds Linnet and Simon, who celebrate their honeymoon among friends, family and past lovers; all of whom hold a grudge against Linnet for various reasons. Naturally, Linnet fears for her safety, as she has made the irrational decision to vacation with people who all have reasons to murder her. She invites the esteemed detective to travel the Nile aboard the S.S. Karnak with the wedding party and his skills are later put to good use. To the couple’s disdain, Jackie haunts their marriage with vengeful appearances and boards the S.S. Karnak. This dramatic, estranged relationship between the couple and Jackie leads some critics to dub the film “Love Triangle on the Nile.”

Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) sits in front of CGI pyramids.

Although the cinematography is breathtaking, with scenes shot using 65 and 70 mm lenses, the Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) is laughably overdone in Death on the Nile. As the cast traverses down the Nile river, the slick, two-dimensional water gives audiences the impression that the Nile has suffered an oil spill. Egyptian pyramids may be awe-inspiring in real life, but the computer-generated shots make them look more like video game graphics than ancient wonders of the world. As if the CGI could get any more unbelievable, the cast lacked charisma and interacted with ancient ruins as if they were props in a high school play.

Gadot wears a silver gown designed by Paco Delgado.

Branagh’s film adaptation of Death on the Nile presents a revamped version of the 1930s, with modernized elegance evident in the sumptuous costume designs. Designer Paco Delgado dons Linnet (Gal Gadot) in a redesigned version of the silvery showstopper gown worn by the character in the 1978 film adaptation of Death on the Nile. Jackie (Emma Mackey) stands out in various crimson red dresses, highlighting her rage and passion. Poirot wears cream-colored linen suits that darken as the tension and melodrama of the movie heighten. Viewers can appreciate the classy, glamorous aesthetics of characters as they sip champagne, speak in lofty 1930s vernacular, and unleash havoc as murder ensues. 

Death on the Nile’s costly catalog of A-list actors and actresses proves that a high budget does not always equal substance. Gadot plays an alluring Linnet but ultimately dilutes the character’s personality with a performance void of compelling emotions. The lack of chemistry between Gadot and Hammer is substituted by raunchy sexuality that feels out of place for the era and leaves viewers cringing. The premise of an Agatha Christie murder mystery is that all characters are suspected of the deed, but this balance is upset in Death on the Nile and some characters are less-likely suspects.

Poirot (Branagh) holds a weapon.

However, not all is lost. Branagh successfully tackles developing a decades-old character and redeems his fellow cast with an enchanting performance. He humanizes Poirot by delving past the character’s refined demeanor with a black and white backstory that illustrates a lost love. Audiences also watch the articulate and cool-headed Poirot face newfound romance and stumble over his words during an encounter with Salome Ottenbourne (Sophie Okonedo), a blues singer. Although I found Branagh’s acting to be a touch melodramatic at times, he reels in Poirot’s theatrics with self-aware quips and endearing obsessive tendencies. An added treat for audiences is a mustache origin story. Branagh brings the tension and tenacity necessary for an Agatha Christie movie. Clearly, Branagh thoroughly enjoys donning the distinguished mustache and entering a world of intrigue and murder.

Emma Mackey brought the heat in her powerful performance as Jackie, the jilted ex-lover of Simon (Hammer). Her rage and passion work in harmony with her self-destructive tendencies, leaving audiences with the impression that Jackie is a tumultuous force to be reckoned with. While Mackey channels explosive heat, Sophie Okonedo delivers a warm, confident performance as Salome, the enchanting blues singer. Both actresses enhance their characters.

Although gorgeous costumes and vibrant cinematography capture Death on the Nile in a lavish version of the 1930s, Branagh ultimately could not reproduce the unnerving intensity necessary for an Agatha Christie adaptation.