A romantic honeymoon through ancient history, a land shrouded in unsolved mysteries, a travel party of family and friends, and murder most foul. These are the ingredients that have made Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile a classic for nearly a century and it gets rejuvenated for the 21st century on February 11th with its second feature film adaptation. The second entry in Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot film series, Death on the Nile is a standalone film that doesn’t require theatergoers to have seen Murder on the Orient Express but adds new character development for the detective on his next incredible case.
While on holiday in Egypt, famous detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) unexpectedly reunites with his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) and finds himself invited to a wedding party for the wealthy Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Gal Gadot) and her husband Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer). Pursued by Simon’s scorned lover Jacqueline (Emma Mackey), Linnet begs Poirot to join them on their river cruise. When a member of the travel party is murdered on board, Poirot quickly gets to work to find the killer amongst them.
Like Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh has assembled an all-star cast with himself and Tom Bateman as the long carryovers from the previous film. Household names like Annette Bening and Russell Brand join familiar faces including Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, and Letitia Wright. Everyone brings their A-game to the set, delivering some masterful performances. Among the biggest surprises are comparatively reserved and serious roles for Brand, French, and Saunders, more widely known for their comedy work.
The film celebrates the grandeur of the late 1930s and cinematically leans into the era while using cutting-edge technology. Made on film, a bit of a rarity these days, Death on the Nile feels like a big-screen classic on its initial release. A few flashbacks to Poirot’s past use black and white to artistically date them while also using more recent de-aging technology to make Baranagh appear younger, and rather convincingly so. At the same time, cameras fly through space in a way that isn’t possible without computer-generated worlds, and the film employs many of them to recreate Egypt before commercial air travel created tourist traps in the vistas of ancient wonders.
Branagh’s love for the source material is evident in every moment of Death on the Nile. Adapted by Michael Green, the film introduces and develops a fairly large ensemble without feeling weighed down. Several of the characters have been modified from the Agatha Christie source material to create more diversity while never feeling innacurate to the time period.
A classic mystery that celebrates the past and present of filmmaking, Death on the Nile feels all at once timeless and new. Gorgeous visuals, stellar performances, and a great adaptation make this another winning entry in what will hopefully be a long running Hercule Poirot franchise for Kenneth Branagh. He’s great at making these films, he’s great at playing this character, and you’re left wanting more when the credits role.
I give Death on the Nile 5 out of 5 stars.