Set in 1937, a luxurious honeymoon riverboat cruise ends in murder in Kenneth Branagh’s new version of Death on the Nile, a follow-up to his “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017).
Playing Agatha Christie’s mustachioed Belgian detective, Branagh’s wryly ostentatious Hercule Poirot is a last-minute addition, along with his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), to the lavish honeymoon party of glamorous heiress Linnet Ridgeway Doyle (Gal Gadot) and her dashing new husband, Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer).
Other cruise passengers – and, of course, suspects – include Linnet’s French maid Louise (Rose Leslie), Linnet’s lawyer/cousin Andrew Katchadourian (Ali Fazel), and her eccentric godmother Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders) with her nurse/companion Bowers (Dawn French).
Plus there’s elderly painter Euphemia Boue (Annette Bening), aristocratic Dr. Linus Windlesham (Russell Brand), guitar-playing nightclub singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) and her clever niece/manager Rosalie (Letitia Wright).
Unexpectedly joining them on the S.S. Karnak paddleboat steamer is Simon’s resentful ex, Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) , toting an ornate .22 caliber pistol in her purse, as they glide past the ancient pyramids of Giza and the colossal Pharaoh Ramses II statues at Abu Simbel.
Working with screenwriter Michael Green, actor/director Branagh condenses so much that he never fully explores the subtle nuances of his rich cast of characters in what seems like a foregone conclusion to the whodunit, particularly when compared with screenwriter Anthony Shaffer’s 1978 version in which Peter Ustinov, Bette Davis and Maggie Smith exchanged barbs.
FYI: Agatha Christie’s literary sleuth, Hercule Poirot, has been played most memorably by Peter Ustinov (“Death on the Nile”) and Albert Finney (“Murder on the Orient Express”) – also by David Suchet (Agatha Christie’s Poirot), Tony Randall (The Alphabet Murders), Alfred Molina (Murder on the Orient Express), Hugh Laurie (Spice World), and Austin Trevor (Lord Edgeware Dies).
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Death on the Nile is a caricatured, frenzied 5, streaming on Hulu, HBO Max and Disney+.