Kenneth Branagh cheers in the sophisticated world of Dame Agatha Christie, but will you?

Reviews by Joyce Glasser Death on the Nile (9 February 2022) Cert 12A, 127 mins

With six BAFTA nominations and seven Oscar nominations for his film, Kenneth Branagh is in high demand Belfastbut like the true actor he is, he can go from heartfelt, autobiographical crowd pleaser to growing up in a working class neighborhood during the Irish Troubles Belfastto the artificial theatrics of the innate upper-class prejudice and duplicity of Dame Agatha Christie without twirling his fancy Hercules mustache.

He can and does, having found endless possibilities for remakes that won’t offend foreign territory from the vast library of the world’s favorite crime writer, Dame Agatha. They might even delight North Korea, China and Putin’s Russia as a cautionary tale of capitalist decadence.

And Branagh did as he did pre-Covid Murder on the Orient Express, assembled an A-list cast that closely resembles the 1978 adaptation. Exoticism is guaranteed. Christie wrote the novel after returning from Egypt where her second husband, British archaeologist Max Mallowan, was conducting excavations. Like her character Linnet, Christie Mallowan married after a whirlwind romance, and the book was dear to her heart. What Branagh doesn’t have is a screenplay by Peter Schaffer or a story that, while far-fetched, might still hook you.

When Branagh stars in the role of Hercule Poirot, he gives himself more dimensionality than any of the other characters in it Death on the Nile. Did you know that the sedentary, immaculately coiffed and dressed brilliant detective who finds germs repulsive and, unlike Columbo, shows no affinity for animals, began his life as a farmer?

The prologue is as much a backstory to Poirot’s mustache as it is to his character. Young Poirot uses his impressive deduction skills to save his regiment from a suicide maneuver in 1914, but not his commander. After the battle, he is visited in the infirmary by his true love, Katherine (Susannah Fielding). As we later learn, she is killed by a mortar blast before they can marry, but not before she proposes that the confident soldier grow a mustache to hide his facial wounds. Poirot tells this story in the film to explain why he has never married and rejects intimacy.

Cut to 1937, on the eve of World War II, and a much older Poirot enters a nightclub where, for a change from the novel, he is intrigued by jazz singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo). On the dance floor, he notices the beautiful Jacqueline “Jackie” de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) and her handsome fiancé Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) performing a pretty hot, dirty dance.

It seems like a coincidence, but it’s not, that Jackie’s old friend Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Gal Gadot), a single heiress who’s stunning in a regal, confident way, walks into the room. Jackie tells Linnet that she and this dashing young town man are madly in love, and begs her old boyfriend to help him get a job at Linnet’s newly acquired newspaper. To seal the deal, Simon and Linnet throw a dance and Jackie watches in alarm as their dance gets pretty hot too.

A few weeks later, by coincidence (or is it?), Poirot is vacationing in Egypt and gets involved in Linnet’s and Simon’s honeymoon party through an old friend, Bouc (Tom Bateman), who is traveling with his wealthy artist mother, Euphemia (Annette Bening).

Linnet is alarmed by the eerie presence of Jackie following her. The couple confide in Poirot, and he agrees to speak to her but takes no payment. Linnet wants to go home, but doesn’t want to spoil Simon’s honeymoon. The compromise is to leave Jackie behind by hiring the sleek Nile boat SS Karnak and taking the party down the river.

The guests crowd on board. These include dr. Linus Windlesham (Russel Brand), Linnet’s former fiancé; Andrew Katchadourian, (Ali Fazal) Linnet’s raunchy attorney who constantly presses contracts for her to sign; Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders), Linnet’s godmother, has become a communist and loathes excessive wealth, although she doesn’t hold back anything. Louise Bourget (Rose Leslie), Linnet’s French maid with a dark secret, is seen trying on Linnet’s most expensive necklace, which is later lost.

There are other guests, including Bouc and Euphemia, who want to prevent Bouc from marrying below his station to Salome’s niece and manager Rosalie (Letitia Wright), even if she is Linnet’s old classmate. And to that list we have to add Jackie because while you might think she’d been banished from the SS Karnak, she’s kind of on board. The explanation given to Linnet is hardly convincing as Linnet pays a fortune to rent the boat to keep Jackie on shore.

This is a cheerless, boring bunch of people, however, and Poirot’s endless questioning of the suspects is hardly distracting as they all have plausible motives. How do you start weighing them? Despite an attempt at “diversity” with a lesbian couple and two sophisticated, articulate and educated black women who are guests rather than servants, the characters are functional and seem divided into suspects or victims. Yes, victim. Because the first person to die is the most obvious, but not the last, and the definitive list of suspects is reduced by the three murders on board.

This raises the question of what happened to Poirot. It may be a mistake for one person to die, but three is just negligence. Was Poirot seduced and distracted by Salome (as the name suggests) or was he fooled by the main suspects’ appearances? Perhaps they will not deceive you, dear reader, for despite a few red herrings, you may know long before Poirot who suspected it. The lack of any mention of calling the police or contacting embassies becomes a distraction.

Nonetheless, the luxurious cruising and the beauty of the sets, as well as the attempt to solve the case are reasons to watch the film. Book a room at the Cataract Hotel in Aswan, take a river cruise to Luxor’s Karnak Temple and bask in the sun-drenched colors of the pyramids, which were captured by cinematographer Harris Zamabarloukos, who has been filming Mr Branagh ever since Thor in 2011, including black and white Belfast.

Kenneth Branagh cheers in the sophisticated world of Dame Agatha Christie, but will you?

Source link Kenneth Branagh cheers in the sophisticated world of Dame Agatha Christie, but will you?

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