The colorful and star-studded Death on the Nile from Kenneth Branagh was released in theaters in February in the middle of Branagh’s Oscar campaign for his less colorful autobiographical, Belfast. A box office flop (theaters are still trying to come back and February is a very strange release month), Death on the Nile is the second installment of Agatha Christie novel adaptations directed by Branagh (the first being Murder on the Orient Express). The film finds new life in its streaming contract with HBO Max and others. Is it worth a watch at home?
The Conservative Critic asks: Is it entertaining? Does it have artistic/intellectual value? And is it liberal propaganda?
Conservative Critic Meter Check: Death on the Nile
Overall Rating: Okay
Death on the Nile is okay. The whodunnit format practically invented by Agatha Christie (and made popular by the board game Clue) is a fun one and the majestic landscapes of 1920s Egypt only make for an even more fun adventure. However, the film is very slow to start and takes its sweet time getting to the mystery. With a few strong emotion arches, it has a very obvious ending and is cornier than it is nostalgic.
But it’s not a total mess and it’s worth watching from the comfort of the living room.
Is it entertaining?
The Agatha Christie-style of mystery where all the players are locked in one space where “someone in the room” has committed the crime is one of my favorite structures and plot tools. It allows for a rich development of characters and for viewers to play along and try to guess who did it based on the evidence and interviews as if they are Branagh’s Hercule Poirot themselves. Combined with the beautiful visuals, colors, and costumes the film is okay for entertainment.
What drags it down is pace. The film takes unnecessary meanderings into backstories that never manifest into the plot and takes a long time to get to the core plotline. By the time we reach the conclusion, it’s very obvious who committed the crime and even how they did it. Less time spent on the background would make for more surprises in the end.
Does it have intellectual/artistic value?
I don’t think it’s fair to review the format of Agatha Christie in her time because she basically invented it and at the time it wasn’t a very well abused structure and plot tool. In 2022, this style of mystery is very well explored and beloved. There is no credit here for anything unusual or new. With a structure this well loved, filmmakers need to go out of their way to make something special out of it which Death on the Nile doesn’t quite do. It underuses talent (Rose Leslie of Game of Thrones has like two lines. Leticia Wright of Black Panther has hardly more), overstuffs backstory and takes itself just one notch too seriously.
However, it is a beautiful and colorful film which celebrates the spirit of ancient Egypt and the opulence of the 1920s. Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) absolutely sparkles as Linnet Ridgeway. As always, despite any potential flaws in performance, her charisma slices through the material. At bit of a breakout performance came from Emma McKay (Sex Education) as the jilted Jaqueline De Belforte. I have not recently seen someone give such believable crazy eyes. McKay gives viewers “woman on the edge” in a very real way as if she might at any moment blow away or blow your head off. Fantastic from her. Not an ounce of subtlety which might have taken the role to a more serious and less frenetic place.
Is it liberal propaganda?
The film is okay on propaganda, steering from political values almost altogether. There is ever so slight lean to the left because there are some themes related to race relations and even though those themes aren’t inherently liberal so much as accurate, it’s a liberal notion that all art must be perceived through a racial lens and that race must be pointed out in every story despite it being completely irrelevant to the plot.