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  • Wendy Shreve

CLEOPATRA ON THE ROCKS: DEATH ON THE NILE


Of life at once untie: poor venomous fool.

Anthony and Cleopatra Act V, Scene ii



The mystery writer Agatha Christie adored the antiquities. Her husband, an archaeologist, brought her on expeditions and she had a particular fascination with Egypt where she first visited at the age of seventeen. Her experiences shaped her stories and none more lavishly than in Death on the Nile (1937, book).

No wonder that Kenneth Branagh chose to direct/star in his second Christie adaptation, Death on the Nile (1922). After an introduction to a Poirot backstory involving World War I, love and loss, years later Poirot walks into a Parisian nightclub where he observes a licentious couple dancing or gyrating to Blues sung by a talented chanteuse. Soon a beautiful woman dressed in silver silk makes an entrance, befriending the couple. Weeks later, Poirot sees them again. This time the man, Simon Doyle, (Arnie Hammer) has married the wealthy heiress, Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). And his former, scorned lover, Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), who had introduced the pair that night in Paris stalks them to Egypt. Others have been invited, Poirot included, to celebrate with the couple. They all board a luxury river boat: then tragedy ensues.


Director Branagh, his cinematographer Harris Zambarloukos capture the colors, historical sites and everyday people of Egypt with as much fondness as the lush trappings of the boat. The Nile almost steals the movie. Inventive camerawork, gorgeous costumes along with a stellar cast--including the above plus Annette Benning, Russell Brand, Letitia Wright, Rose Leslie, Sophie Okonedo and others--provide the atmosphere, dramatic setup. This time, Branagh, who again stars as Poirot, shares the limelight more readily.


Problems arise when the actor has Poirot manifest his emotions. Changes in the plot allow for the detective to become somewhat attached to certain characters. Worse, the obvious plugs for Gadot's upcoming movie, Cleopatra, left this viewer with a bitter taste. These decisions that may appeal to or unruffle modern audiences, but I can hear Christie (and her devoted fans) saying, "That just won't do."


Other tweaks may also elicit disapproval. To divulge them would be to reveal spoilers. Long in running time (over two hours), exposition, the film, nevertheless, leaves the impression that all involved felt committed to the story. The serious tone contrasts with some earlier adaptations. Unlike its 1978 predecessor for example, the screenwriter (Michael Green), and Director Branagh have the actors/their characters omit playful banter to a large extent.


Despite the expressed reservations, Branagh, his cast and crew give us much to admire in Death on the Nile--a much-needed escape to another time, another world.


Rated PG-13 for language, sexual behavior and violence. Some may take offense to the meat locker scenes (e.g., pork is haram in Islam).


Now playing at a theater near you. Locals: Entertainment Cinemas, South Dennis.



Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies or my previous blog site, featuringfilm.com



Care to share? Send your comments to featuringfilmreviewer@gmail.com

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