Very few people understand theatre quite like Sir Kenneth Brannagh. The Irish-born actor/director trained at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts before making the move to the silver screen. His catalouge is relatively small, currently sitting at 18 directing credits in total, with his primary focus appearing to be on the stage- and this is reflected in his film repertoire. Sir Brannagh is most well known for his adaptations of William Shakespeare plays like Henry V (1989), Hamlet (1996), and As You Like It (2006), which are grand in scale and beautifully designed. With this taste for the theatrical in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that his latest endeavor Death on the Nile is full of grandeur.
Based on the 1937 novel by Agatha Christie, the film follows world-renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot as he attempts to uncover who is behind an increasing number of murders on a boat cruise along The Nile. Each person there is present to celebrate a newly-wed couple, and each has a possible motive, but as the murderer commits more acts of violence the list of suspects quickly dwindles. This kind of story is rife with oddly charming melodrama- the screams, the gasps, and the wild accusations. Another director might attempt to ground the story in gritty realism, but not Brannagh. The bright colours are accompanied by staggering shots of Egypt. The sunsets are bright orange and the flares red as if the scenes were captured on canvas with acrylic paint. This is not a film that asks to be taken seriously, but one that asks you to react however you see fit. You too can gasp, scream, and throw wild accusations.
This is reflected in the acting. Sex Education’s Emma Mackay portrays the primary suspect, a jilted ex-fiance, and with a powerhouse performance like this, it’s no surprise that she’s quickly becoming one of the finest actresses of this generation. Equally exquisite is Brannagh as the beloved Belgian, who delights in holding a room’s attention and is marvelous at doing so. The climax of the story, as with all murder mysteries, is the unveiling of the truth, which Poirot delivers with an enticing monologue. The rest of the cast is stacked with famous faces like Russel Brand, Annette Benning, Dawn French, and Jennifer Saunders who each revel in the role they have been given.
Arguably the largest name on the list is Gal Gadot, who portrays the blushing bride. Unfortunately, her performance may be the weakest. The emotion is there but the fluctuating accent quickly becomes a distraction. She goes from sounding French to American to British in the span of a few syllables and I’m now 90% certain it was meant to be French. Some may also feel like the plot takes too long to get to the murder, as it occurs shortly before the halfway mark, but with a cast this large full of so many introductions, it’s understandable.
For this theatre kid, watching Death on the Nile felt like being back in an auditorium. I can think of no higher praise than that.