Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express was old-fashioned fluff with lavish production values. Hardly vital, but an easy watch. His second Christie is effectively the same deal, but the train is now a boat and everyone’s boiling hot instead of freezing cold.
Death on the Nile finds detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) apparently on holiday in Egypt. There he gets dragged into the wedding party of multi-millionaire Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Gal Gadot), who has just stolen the fiancé (Armie Hammer) of an old friend (Emma Mackey) and added him to her possessions. There is a murder. No prizes for guessing the victim. All the suspects are stuck on a luxurious paddle-steamer, trying to avoid death or arrest so they can get back to their champagne.
While it’s still a cast full of big names, it’s not as dazzlingly A-list as the first film. When star-wattage is a big part of the sell, that matters. With all respect to the actors’ talents, getting Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, and French and Saunders in the same room just doesn’t have the same dazzle and logistical impressiveness as Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe and Olivia Colman.
Branagh conjures some pulpy backstory for Poirot’s moustache. The film could use more of that
The performances are a mixed bag. Jennifer Saunders is enjoyably on the edge of panto as a champagne communist, and Dawn French touching as her companion. Gadot misses the cruel, egotistical edge that makes Linnet so easy to dislike. Mackey stands out from a much more experienced cast, giving full messy bitch who lives for drama as the spurned lover.
For anyone even glancingly aware of Christie’s story, there can be no surprises in whodunnit, so it needs some spark in the way it mixes up the cast to keep it entertaining. Michael Green’s script is a bit thin on that front, with most scenes fixed on exposition and little time for incidental fun. He does conjure some pulpy backstory for Poirot’s moustache, which is the sort of thing it could use more of. There’s an innately camp, silly quality to these star-crammed murder-mysteries. Embracing that would make Branagh’s adaptations more of a scream.
Out worldwide Feb 11.