Kenneth Branagh’s latest turn as Hercule Poirot is filled with style but takes far too long to get going.
Out of Agatha Christie’s substantial novels, Death on Nile is perhaps one of her best known and continues to thrill with the way in which the series of deaths come about in a slow burning way to keep the reader or in the case of the 1978 film audience guessing right up until the very end. Now Kenneth Branagh has attempted to breathe new life into this classic story.
Starting with a whole sequence in which how Poirot decided to grow his famous moustache, the film is filled with details that perhaps are unnecessary and drag out the central plot unnecessarily – hence why it is about 30 minutes into the film before the audience is whisked off to Egypt and even longer before the first murder is committed. The story concerns that of newly weds Simon and Linnet who are travelling down the Nile as part of their honeymoon – however when they are confronted by Simon’s spurned fiancee Jacqueline, this sets off a chain of events that lead to murder.
The first point that should be made about Branagh’s film is that it is sumptuous to look at visually – complete with dazzling shots of Egypt, gorgeous costume designs and a refreshing attempt to re-evaluate the characters and in a sense their motivations. However, this being said Michael Green and Kenneth Branagh’s attempt to flesh out the story (which it didn’t need to) feels a little bit forced, meaning that the central plot in turn becomes rushed and everything feels as though it is tied up rather too neatly. In turn, despite a strongly put together cast, it feels as though none of the characters really stand out and you are never really given an opportunity to know them properly, meaning that the film is lacking in passion – you never feel as though any of the characters are that bothered about each other, the strength in believing any of them want to kill each other is lacking. This can be particularly seen in the moments after the second and third murders – the reactions feel a little too staged and precise.
It is a real shame as this is an excellent cast. Kenneth Branagh as Poirot shows a more sensitive and sentimental side to the famous detective, while ensuring that his razor sharp intellect is on full display as he interrogates each of the passengers. Meanwhile, I would have loved to have seen more of Letitia Wright and Sophie Okonedo as Rosalie and Salome Otterbourne – both delivering strong and charismatic performances, while Emma Mackey as Jacqueline captures the characters vulnerability in a mesmerising and understated way.
Overall, it feels as though this film values style over substance – which is fine to a degree but when dealing with a murder mystery it is important to ensure the characters and motivations take as much centre stage.
By Emma Clarendon
Death on the Nile is available to buy and download now.