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Death On The Nile ★★



Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okoneko, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright 

Release: February 11, 2022 (UK Cinemas) 

Star-studded Agatha Christie ensembles are a spectacle UK audiences are no stranger to. Following the 1978 film, the 2004 TV film and countless adaptations in radio and gaming, the iconic whodunnit is revived once again, with Kenneth Branagh at the directorial helm. While Branagh’s take on Poirot is more endearing than most give him credit for, Death on the Nile’s pacing flounders into a boring game of cat and mouse. 

It’s the classic Poirot case based on the 1937 novel. Following an unsteady romantic triangle, Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) honeymoons with his newlywed bride Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Gal Gadot) on the banks of the Egyptian Nile. Boarding the Karnak with a motley crew of potential suspects, the celebrations quickly dissolve into a grisly murder mystery, with Detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) coincidentally available to investigate. 

Unlike most glossy, Hollywood crime dramas, Death on the Nile feels unbearably slow. Over the course of the first two-thirds of the narrative, the action stalls in the quicksand of backstory, taking time to relay information that doesn’t answer as many questions as it should. A glimpse into Poirot’s wartime backstory is touching yet feels tonally at odds with the camp, hammed-up theatrical productions we know Agatha Christie’s to be. The CGI effects are questionable at best, with visual crime cues so overtly placed it ventures into Blue’s Clues for adults.

Amongst the questionable overall output, a few stars shine with undeniable panache. Sophie Okonedo takes the baton of Salome Ottobourne from Angela Lansbury, delivering a high-end take on camp that deliciously sizzles with deep Southern charm. As her campy counterpart, Jennifer Saunders gives the role of Marie Van Schuyler (originally portrayed by Bette Davis) the whole hock of ham. For a British audience, seeing a new dynamic between French & Saunders is bound to be equally as tantalising. Each provides a level of nuanced comedy that only they can, leaving the audience in safe hands while the pair are in the spotlight. 

The others leave a lot to be desired. Alongside a surprisingly subpar outing from Annette Bening, the majority of the remaining cast are cancelled for their own reasons—including anti-vax rhetoric, political stances and assault allegations. Even when objectively putting this to one side, it doesn’t change the landscape much. Gal Gadot is pleasant enough to watch, while the male ensemble blur into an indistinguishable ‘old chap’ Briton. The additional impact of accent swapping can also be felt, with a medley of Western vocals unreasonably on display. 

A question of absurdity lies at the heart of Branagh’s Death on The Nile. How much is too much? There isn’t a clear answer to this, as overly stylised shots do match the Christie calibre. Once the shackles of plot and context break, the murderous structure is satisfying, making up for what came before in an alarmingly quick pace. Revealing character motives makes for classic entertainment, with the laissez-faire drama a thing of the past. 

Although champagne is aplenty, Branagh’s directorial choices don’t sustain enough gusto to fill the Nile. 

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