Sarah and Shana Watched Death on the Nile

DEATH ON THE NILE poster with the entire ensemble posing dramatically against a sunset with apyramid in the background Gal Godot is front and center in a bias cut gown looking extremely boredDeath on the Nile is a stunningly gorgeous film that somehow manages to be both overdramatic and plodding. It is filled to the rafters with problematic actors wearing opulent apparel.

I watched it on a whim one evening and when I mentioned it to the review team, Shana had just watched it as well. So we’re here to tell you about it.

Sarah: I genuinely enjoyed how bizarre, wooden, and out of sync Gal Gadot Godot was. Her character is supposed to be this gravitational center of attraction that people are unable to resist and she is so not. She’s almost always a half-beat behind everyone else, and instead of looking like an irresistible flirt, she more often looks like she’s got indigestion.

Shana: Gadot is pretty to look at, but I agree. That’s a metaphor for the whole movie, maybe?

Because my favorite part of Death on the Nile was how freaking gorgeous it is. Every frame is beautiful, even when the movie makes little sense. The setting on a narrow luxury steamboat is fun but impractical. If I was sailing in an area prone to sandstorms, would I build a floating glass box? No.

Did I enjoy watching people in pretty costumes run around on it? Yes.

The entire cast posing at the front of the glass box boat against a cgi backdrop. No kidding the entire front rom of the boat is two levels of glass

I’ve been viewing old episodes of ITV’s Poirot lately, so I have a soft spot for the fussy Belgian detective.

This version merges and transforms some of the characters, adding Sophie Okonedo as American jazz singer, Salome, in place of the romance novelist. She and her associate are much more mesmerizing than Godot, and they’re the only characters who rattle Poirot.

Sophie Okonedo singing in an early scene of the film in a purple turban and purple gown with a deep v neck
Sophie Okonedo is fabulous in every scene

Salome has many of my favorite lines in the movie, like

“Poirot, if I put a bullet in everyone who took a punch out of me for not keeping to my place, the world would be filled with the bodies of White ladies.”

I also loved Branaugh’s larger-than-life version of Poirot’s mustache. The mustache is the best character in the movie.

The mustache even gets a new backstory.

Show Spoiler
Poirot is injured in WWI, and grows a mustache to cover facial scars
Ken and Poirot's absolutely magnificent moustache
Ken and Poirot’s mustache

Sarah: Sophie Okonedo stole every scene she was in, between her turbans and her ability to convey an entire page of dialogue in one eyebrow lift. Rose Leslie was also great in a limited role, and I would have liked to see more of nearly everyone.

And yes, every last scene was dreadfully opulent, dripping in excess from the set to the costumes and jewelry to even the lipstick and the shoes. It is indeed freaking gorgeous.

But the movie spends so much languid, indulgent time on the scenery and the setting that the people and their complicated backstories and motivations aren’t developed. Instead of being people with plausible reasons for killing someone, they’re pieces on a board.

Granted that board is a custom built ship against a green screen of opulent decadence and gives you a lot to look at beyond the limited character arcs. Branagh loooooooves a spinny camera (count the number of merry go round scenes where the camera revolves around the actors like they’re at a very intense seance).

(Wait, do not, you will get dizzy).

If the people had been given the same weight as the setting, the film would have been 4 hours.

Shana: We had to cut all that plot to give us more time with the mustache.

Even by the solipsistic standards of a Branaugh film, Death on the Nile felt exceptionally self-indulgent. While the rest of the characters’ backstories were trimmed, Poirot’s was expanded, crowding out the mystery storyline. I could have done with fewer scenes of Poirot staring pensively into the distance. It was hard to care about the characters dying when we don’t know much about them.

And what a missed opportunity to rewrite the Egyptian characters into less of an imperialist fantasy!

Sarah: Agreed. There was room for much more characterization and much less mustache.

I was also repeatedly delighted by the random bits of stylistic silliness.

Check out this scene with the ship crew pallbearers carting the victim’s body down the stairs.

Four women of the ships crew in nearly identical hair styles and matching red lipstick cart a wrapped body down some steep stairs except the body is in a sort of canvas sling and there is nothing preventing it from sliding out the front past the very stylish pallbearers

Of note: What is with the hair? The lipstick? The part where the body is clearly going to slide out of that canvas?

Shana: O.M.G.

How did I miss those? That is amazing! I can’t stop laughing

Their hair! Those outfits! The part where that body is definitely not secured.

Sarah: Some parts are So Silly.

Shana: Like the weirdly dark questioning scenes. How did you even find that much darkness when every room had multiple windows?

So, the key question: Is it worth two hours of your time?

Sarah: I watched with Adam over dinner (recommended pairing: spaghetti and wine) and he summed it up perfectly: very pretty, sometimes very silly, and rather boring. The more intense Poirot got, the more dull it became.

Shana: If you’re a hardcore Agatha Christie fan, it’s worth a watch to enjoy the high production values. I’m fast running out of British TV mysteries, so this was a nice film to have on while I was knitting.

Death on the Nile is available on Hulu in the US.

Have you watched Death on the Nile? What did you think? 

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  1. Jill Q. says:

    Ah, I’m not sure how well it holds up, but I grew up watching the Peter Ustinov 70s version of EVIL UNDER THE SUN with my parents (big Agatha Christie fans in my house) and I have a lot of fond memories of it. If you want Angela Lansbury chomping scenery as a delightfully unhinged and horny romance novelist, I highly recommend it. It also have Bette Davis and Maggie Smith being snarky old lady MVPs.
    I may watch this one for curiosity’s sake, but I will slot it in as “laundry folding” watch.

  2. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    @Jill Q: I think you may be conflating EVIL UNDER THE SUN with DEATH ON THE NILE. Peter Ustinov played Poirot in movie adaptations of each of them in the 1970s. They were big, star-studded affairs; not always faithful to the books, but still loads of fun to watch.

    Although David Suchet is my favorite Poirot and I generally prefer any of the adaptations that star him, I do think the Ustinov version of DEATH ON THE NILE (with Mia Farrow as Jacqueline) really conveys the underlying sense of fatalism found in Christie’s book. There’s a theme of “being under a bad star” that runs through the book and I believe the 1970s adaptation—especially Mia Farrow’s performance—captures that perfectly. Not sure this new version can add much to the Christie adaptations canon—for starters, that mustache, whatever it’s origin story, is totally wrong!

  3. Jill Q. says:

    @DDD, you’re absolutely right! That’s what I get for typing before my coffee. Agree Mia Farrow is great in it.

    FWIW, we watched EVIL UNDER THE SUN a lot also. They were two big comfort watches in our house.

  4. Quinn Wilde says:

    Oh, I am such a fan of David Suchet as Poirot, I think I will be a near-impossible sell on this film. I’ve even read his autobiography Poirot And Me (only $2.99 on Kindle). And I think the book is one of Christie’s best. It’s such a beautifully set up romantic triangle. I’ve been on a Christie binge for the past few months. I’d recommend the podcast All About Agatha to read-along with any Christie novels.

  5. AtasB says:

    “Death on the Nile is available on Hulu in the US.”
    Is it also on HBO Max? Because I literally saw ads for it being on HBO Max and I have it on my watch list there. (I do need background stuff for when I’m listing books for sale, though if this is mostly just pretty IDK how it’ll work for that…)

  6. EJ says:

    This movie has been so aggressively marketed for so long that I made up my mind not to see it before I knew about any related controversy. I liked Murder on the Orient Express, mostly because I was completely unaware of the major plot twist at the end and because Michelle Pfeiffer should be in more things.

  7. Emily C says:

    @AtasB – it is also on HBOMax, which is where I watched it for no commercial interruptions. Its lovely background watching I would say- I was working on an art journal project this week and watched it over two nights.

    It’s very pretty and I also want to call out the great supporting performances of Sophie Okonedo, Letitia Wright and Annette Bening. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders really needed more to do but both were wonderful as well.

  8. TinaNoir says:

    I have HULU (no commercials) and I watched it there.

    I have to 100% agree that the look of the film is its best feature. It is gorgeous. The ship is gorgeous. I really wouldn’t mind sailing down the Nile on that with a bunch of close friends.

    The costumes were great as well, lots of filmy pastels, linen suits, 20s era dropped waists and finger waved hair.

    As for the performances, yeah… Sophie Okenodo and Annette Bening were very good. Branagh could have been good but between the mustache and the glowers it felt like he was chewing all that lovely scenery. Also the actor who played Bouc was really very good. In fact the only time I unreservedly enjoyed Poirot was in his scenes with Bouc.

    With everyone else, I felt I never saw the character only the actor. Armie Hammer gave a good performance but I can see why they relegated this movie to streaming only because I couldn’t watch him without thinking about all the crap that came out about him last year.

    I never thought Gal Gadot was good actress, tbh, and this hasn’t changed that. She is woefully miscast here.

  9. chacha1 says:

    We watched it thinking there might be a touch of action or suspense as in Branagh’s ‘Orient Express’ and … we were disappointed. Or, as Otto says in ‘A Fish Called Wanda,’ we were disaPPOINTed!! 🙂

    I have in the past found Branagh a dynamic and complex actor, but he’s beyond wooden in this one. Like almost everyone else. I could not bring myself to care about any of the characters except Salome.

    The prologue to the prologue (WWI stuff) I thought was completely egregious, turning an existentially horrible world event into a ‘see my ancient woe and feel for me’ manipulation. Poirot as a character doesn’t work for me as a romantic lead, and giving him a Tragic Romantic Backstory was a waste of time. I found this movie’s use of WWI less respectful even than that in ‘The King’s Man.’

    And the second prologue with that ridiculously overdone dancing? I like dancing in movies, don’t get me wrong. But it was so anachronistic, so impossible-to-be-led-or-followed, and so unnecessary it shunted me squarely into ‘oh this is THAT kind of movie, well, at least she is pretty’ territory.

  10. Caro Kinkead says:

    I watched this the night my husband had his friends over for gaming, so I was able to enjoy it undisturbed. i enjoyed the beginning, and while I knew it was not going to replace either the Ustinov or Suchet versions, the beginning was good to knit along to. I appreciated some of the changes Branagh made, especially with Salome Otterbourne. Angela Lansbury was delightful over-the-top satire (“Waiter, this crocodile has lost its croc.”), but Sophie Okonedo’s Salome held a genuine undercurrent of danger. (And, yes, Gibson put its first electric guitar on the market the year before this is set, so Salome could have had one. Had to stop and look that up.) I liked the idea Linnett grew more and more concerned about the danger lurking. And the visuals are a lovely way to pass the evening.

    I was having a good time until we got to the twist concerning Bouc. The one that propelled us directly into the finale. After that, I was seriously annoyed for the rest of the film and the ending shots did nothing to ease that. Yes, it’s his interpretation of the character, but it felt more than a little off the mark.

    Apparently, according to the current president of 20th Century Studios, there are plans for a third film set in Venice and adapting a “lesser-known” Poirot novel. It’s going to be set post-war, and the only enthusiasm I feel is if Salome is along for the ride.

  11. Vellw says:

    Isn’t it ‘Gadot’, not ‘Godot’? We’re not waiting for her, are we?

  12. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    @Vellw: If we are waiting for Godot, spoiler alert: she never shows up.

  13. LJO says:

    I had started watching both the Poirot and Marple series when they popped up on my PBS stations. Even more, I only recently started reading the books, the first being DotN. As a rule, I don’t love film adaptations of books (Exhibit A: The Prince of Tides), but I had hopes for this one. Happily we still have Suchet & Co to fall back on.

  14. SB Sarah says:

    I AM SO AMUSED. I think that was an autocorrect I didn’t catch and I’m absolutely delighted by how silly that is. Thank you for catching it.

  15. LisaM says:

    I’ve read Read a couple of articles about how Kenneth Branagh is going to be adapting Miss Marple next. I don’t see why, and I don’t expect expect there will be anything I want to watch, based on what he’s done with Poirot.

    I haven’t seen any reviews good or bad of Hugh Laurie’s new Why Didn’t They Ask Evans, but I’m going to give that a try.

  16. Lianne says:

    I think I would have enjoyed this more if it had taken a few less liberties with the plot. A group of strangers become the wedding party instead. A character from the previous movie replaces *two* characters in the book. An extra murder (with a chase scene). And the only reason I could see for making the money advisor Indian was because they were trying to add some diversity. Changing Salome from a white romance writer to a black jazz singer made far more sense.

    I actually saw this on the big screen in February, and it was an enjoyable trip out of the house.

    The one scene I would have preferred be heavily edited, though, was the first scene of the main story. I really didn’t need that much pornographic dancing. It added nothing to the story, and was so uncomfortable that I shut my eyes to ignore it until they moved to the next scene.

  17. hng23 says:

    The first time I saw a photo of Branagh in character I knew I was going to skip any Poirot movie starring that ludicrous moustache.

    I do like Peter Ustinov but his Poirot was entirely too amiable for my taste.

    There can only be one Poirot & he is David Suchet.

  18. Msb says:

    I saw and liked the Ustinov Poirot films; as soon as I saw The Mustache, I knew I didn’t want to see the Branagh versions. Skip this mess and see Belfast instead! It’s terrific.
    Branagh can do Miss Marple too, if he wants, as long as he doesn’t PLAY her.

  19. Lianne says:

    People like to comment on the moustache, but really, the Branaugh moustache is closest to the book version. For example, in Death on the Nile, Poirot is described as: a little man of comical appearance with immense black moustaches.

    Yes, moustaches in the plural.

    You have to admit, as much as Suchet or Ustinov are peoples’ mental image of Poirot, neither sport a moustache that could be called “immense”.

  20. EJ says:

    @Msb

    Who do you think would be a good Miss Marple? (Anyone answer this!)

    I never got into Agatha Christie which is strange because I love British mysteries. I saw The Mousetrap in London with my family many years ago which is a very fun experience. If I had a kid I would take them because yeah, it’s murder-y but I think safe enough for a mature child.

  21. Quinn Wilde says:

    I was just going to joke that Branagh would totally have the balls (no pun intended) to Marple it up!

    I’m just going to say that I feel immensely privileged as a mystery reader to have lived at a time when I could see Joan Hickson’s Marple, David Suchet’s Poirot, and Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes.

    I hate to be the person who is resistant to new adaptations, but the fact Suchet clearly put so much of his spiritual beliefs into his vision of Poirot really moves me, even though I’m not a Christian. Especially Death on the Nile, which really deals so much with the dark side of obsession, love, and forgiveness.

  22. Susan says:

    I’ve literally been a Christie fan since the third grade, but there have been some godawful screen adaptations recently. The ABC Murders with John Malkovich was…bearable, at best. I was lured into watching Ordeal by Innocence by the presence of of Bill Nighy, but ended up bailing. I’m officially done. Definitely sticking to David Suchet reruns.

    BTW, Suchet narrates the audiobook of Death on the Nile. I haven’t listened to it, but have listened to other books he’s done, and he was terrific. I’ve listened to some really bad performances by well-known screen actors so I’m often leery of the big names, but he was a wonderful surprise.

    And, sorry to be unkind, but Gal Gadot* has all the charisma of a store mannequin. I saw her in a movie with Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne Johnson and she was the most forgettable part of a forgettable movie.

    *My autocarrot tried to make that Gator.

  23. MsCellanie says:

    That’s how I felt about his Orient Express. Really, really, really pretty but so boring.
    I’m kind of interested in the one that Hugh Laurie is doing, but not interested enough to subscribe to BritBox just for that…maybe somewhere else will pick it up eventually.

  24. Ele says:

    I did really enjoy the sets and costumes, but kept getting distracted by Bouc. Not because he was so attractive (though he was) but because I’m an obsessive Agatha Christie fan–read them all, some more than once–and he’s not in the book. And then he ends up being a key part of the ending!

    The moustache–yes, I liked its ridiculousness. And the transformation of Salome, yes, that was great because everything is better with some blues.

    All in all, worth a couple of hours of my time, I think.

  25. JetGirl says:

    The mustache backstory thoroughly endeared me to the film. Also, I very badly want to take a cruise on that boat. As long as I avoid murder, it’s all good.

  26. SJV says:

    Agree with everything said above. So very pretty but not a lot of substance – kind of like a movie version of puff pastry. One thing that very lovely was the music and soundtrack. I watched it a second time just to listen to it while I tackled the pit of despair that was my refrigerator. Also, the audio book Poirot and Me narrated by David Suchet was delightful!

  27. Susanna says:

    In my opinion, the best Poirot and Miss Marple actors were both on TV productions – David Suchet and Joan Hickson. (Hickson, alas, has been dead 25 years. I believe she was Christie’s preferred casting for the role when they gave it to Rutherford.)

    The best film adaptations of Christie, IMO:

    Witness for the Prosecution (1957). Fantastic casting (particularly Dietrich) with the exception of Tyrone Power. Equally fantastic director (Billy Wilder). Black & white.
    Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Superb cast. Lauren Bacall chews scenery with gusto. Ustinov is a reasonable Poirot.
    Death on the Nile (1978). Again, superb cast. Bette Davis, uh, chews scenery with gusto. Ustinov is a reasonable Poirot.
    The Mirror Crack’d (1980). Elizabeth Taylor chews scenery with gusto. Angela Lansbury is a reasonable Miss Marple.

    The Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple movies from the 60s are great fun if you’re in the mood for them, but less accurate to the series (or, indeed, the character) than this current version of Death on the Nile – I think.

  28. Susanna says:

    Oh, and for anyone who likes science as well as Christie, I can only recommend A is for Arsenic by Kathryn Harkup. She knows both her poisons and her Christie. Spoilers are as infrequent as she can make them, and well marked.

  29. Lynn says:

    Unpopular opinion: I thought Gal Gadot was lovely but could not understand why she and Emma Mackey would fight over a guy like Armie Hammer. He was trash from the start.

    I am so torn about this movie because I was having a good time up until the Bouc thing and then it was dead to me. I didn’t even care for the rest of the movie and just begrudgingly sat in the cinema until it was over. Normally I’m not against changes of minor characters or story arcs (the newer Marple series with Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie does this a lot and sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t) but I simply cannot understand why they would bring Bouc into this, change his personality, give him a love story and then have it lead to this. He wasn’t even supposed to be there! I think the thing that bothers me the most in this adaptation is how much of a tragic figure Poirot is made to be. I have not read all of the Poirot books but in the ones I’ve read he’s always been kind of reserved and focussing more on logic than emotions but in this movie he just feels all the things all the time. In “Murder on the Orient Express” the more emotional approach to the story worked for me because it really highlighted how a lot of people can get affected by one murder and what it can make them do (and Poirot learning to accept that things aren’t always black and white felt in character). But in this one there was just too much of everything. The love triangle would have been tragic enough but the sad background story for Poirot paired with the aftermath of the Bouc thing stole the focus of that and it felt like a sad biopic with a side plot of murder. The Poirot of the first movie was melancholic while still feeling true to the book character but this one was just melodramatic. As many have said the aesthetics of the film are gorgeous and probably best enjoyed in a cinema but I’m not sure the story is worth the time. I will probably watch the next Poirot movie and also any possible Marple adaptation but I’ll definitely lower my expectations.

  30. Midge says:

    I love Kenneth Branagh ever since I saw Much Ado About Nothing at around age 12 – my mom took me and a school friend to see it because she thought it’d be good. I had no idea what to expect, no idea of Shakespeare and fell totally in love with Branagh’s Benedic. And I’ve loved him in many more movies, even had the good luck of seeing him live on stage in London a few years ago.
    BUT… I don’t even think about seeing his Poirot films. I read a lot of Agatha Christie in my teens, first through the school library in German and later my mom’s old paperbacks in English, because owns every single book Christie ever wrote. Marple were the first ones I read, and then Poirot, and I had very firm ideas of what these two should look like. I agree, Hickson was great as Marple, I know I saw these on TV many moons ago. I also liked Geraldine McEwan in the first ITV series. As for Poirot, of course I watched all the Ustinov films once I’d read the book, and they are great. As is the 60s Murder on the Orient Express film. Before we got British TV channels here, that’s what we got to see on German TV, even though the Poirot series with David Suchet had already started by then. Anyway, once we did get BBC and ITV here, I dived into all the ITV series and Suchet is IMHO the best Poirot ever. No need for any new adaptations, #sorrynotsorry!

  31. SB Sarah says:

    @SJV: puff pastry is a really good way to describe the movie, yes. And you’re totally right about the soundtrack – it’s as lovely to listen to as the scenery and costumes are to look at.

  32. LJO says:

    I haven’t seen it in quite a bit, but one of my very fave Branagh films is Dead Again. It is he and Emma, as well as the great Derek Jacobi. A great thriller and you see what once was in Ken and Em.

  33. Msb says:

    @EJ
    Anybody who can be both fluffy and tough. Joan Hickson was perfect. When she’s finished with The Crown, I would recommend Imelda Staunton. When she’s got a bit older, Olivia Colman.

    @LJO
    I loved Dead Again. “All of this is far from over.”
    As to Ken and Em, I took my mum to see Sense & Sensibility, which was released when Ken and Em were divorcing. We loved the film, and, as we left the cinema, my mum said, “He’s a fool to let her go, a fool!” Right, as usual.

  34. LJO says:

    @Msb
    Your mother is so right!! But then again Emma has shone even brighter in the intervening years….

  35. Joy says:

    I don’t like this Branaugh version of Christie. What is with the athletic chases in both of his films? Poirot was an elderly Belgium and would NOT have been involved in running around. The setting and clothes etc. were beautiful but the strange stylized women servants? I did not like it at all–and so s-l-o-w. Not the observant and almost languid pace of a Christie novel. I think some versions of Christie’s novel–who doesn’t appreciate the fantastic performance of Dietrich–have been good but as beautiful as they have been (fantastic and lush set design) I don’t like his interpretation of the fussy Belgium.

  36. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    @Susanna: one small correction: Albert Finney played Poirot in the 1974 version of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. It’s an all-star extravaganza and fairly faithful to the book.

    Christie actually dedicated one of her books to Margaret Rutherford. Rutherford really wasn’t anything like the Miss Marple of the books, but Christie must have liked something about her performances. In the movie MURDER SHE SAID (adapted from Christie’s THE 4:50 FROM PADDINGTON aka WHAT MRS. MCGULLICUDDY SAW), Rutherford plays Miss Marple and future perfect-as-Miss-Marple Joan Hickson played a housekeeper who becomes a victim. Hickson later said she asked Christie for an autograph and Christie wrote something like, “I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple.” And she did—and was the quintessential Miss Marple.

  37. Maureen says:

    @LJO and @Msb-YES! Dead Again is such a great movie! I watched Death on the Nile last weekend, enjoyed it, especially seeing French and Saunders together. Anyway, for some reason that got me thinking about Dead Again and how much I love the movie and need to watch again.

    What do we think about Emma Thompson as Miss Marple? I know she is too young, but she can play older. I LOVE her mom, Phyllida Law-she would be perfect, but at 89? Probably not.

  38. Miss Louisa says:

    @DDD, thank you for bringing up Albert Finney because I have been sitting here saying wasn’t that him in the 1974 film? But, I was too lazy to go to IMDB to look.

    While I haven’t read the books, my mother has and growing up, we saw every Christie adaptation with her. Ditto the TV versions of Poirot and Miss Marple being the best.

    Visually, this film was stunning, especially on the screen in the theater where we saw it. They made the desert look gorgeous and caught the colors of the sky and lightning really well. We live in southwest Arizona, so after the movie was over, my friend and I turned to each other and said that while pretty, all those colors in the sky are from the light reflecting all the dust in the air. We get warnings not to go out on those days because if you have any allergies or asthma, or chronic laryngitis or bronchitis (like me) you will have problems.

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