Kenneth Branagh‘s latest Agatha Christie adaptation — Death on the Nile (2022) — is in theaters now and comes to HBO Max and Hulu on March 29. I was visiting mom and she wanted to see it, so off I trotted to an actual movie theater for the first time in about 2 years! Is the movie watchable? Sure, but it’s heavy handed. The costumes are decent with your run-of-the-mill “we wanted to modernize it/the 1930s are so modern/we wanted to resonate with a modern audience,” which, OVER IT.
I can only really compare it with the 1978 film, since I’ve never read any Agatha Christie. Luckily, I’m pretty good at forgetting the details of these murder mysteries, so while I had a good guess pretty early on as to who-done-it, I didn’t remember specifics. In general, sure, the film felt much more up-to-date, but it was really, REALLY dark. For example, the film wastes a bunch of time on Poirot’s backstory, including a ludicrous reason for his overly flamboyant mustachios. Poirot is also shown as much more mercenary and narcissistic in this film as compared to Branagh’s (also dark) Murder on the Orient Express.
I liked the story and performances of the central love triangle — Gal Gadot is Linnet, a wealthy socialite who has just married the ex-fiancé of a good friend, played by Emma Mackey. Mackey was really the standout performance for me, as she gets to radiate lust, love, and vengeance and she does it all with ease.
Some actors/characters felt wasted. I was confused why Russell Brand, of all people, was cast a super-serious doctor; Rose Leslie (Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones) was NOT given much to do as Linnet’s secretary; and I felt like Dawn French was only included because she played the companion to Jennifer Saunders. Ali Fazal as Linnet’s cousin should completely ask for his money back. That being said, Saunders was hilarious as a wealthy communist, Annette Bening played a good controlling mother, and Letitia Wright was an excellent super-organized manager with some real depth.
The film’s handling of race and ethnicity left something to be desired. The only Egyptians are complete background, servant-y characters; and when it comes out that a cross-racial English/American relationship has been going on, everyone acts like the racial difference basically isn’t there and all concerns are really about social class. Yes, the Brits had their own nuances around race that were sometimes different from Americans, but that doesn’t mean the Brits weren’t a racist culture.
The costumes were designed by Paco Delgado (Les Misérables, The Danish Girl, Jungle Cruise) and you will be SHOCKED, SHOCKED I TELL YOU when Branagh’s goal was to modernize the costumes. LE SIGH. In an entirely-too-short featurette on the costumes, Delgado said,
“Ken wanted to do a movie that was appealing, in the sense that it doesn’t look like a reproduction of the period, taking a much more contemporary approach.”
Luckily, it’s not ALL 2022. According to an interview with Vogue, Delgado consulted the Vogue archives:
“The ’30s were such an incredibly modern period fashion-wise — much more so than the conservative ’40s. The quality and draping of the fabrics is really what makes the clothes feel ‘of that time’, and I was lucky enough to have an entire team dyeing and cutting and embroidering with me to make sure our pieces were as realistic as possible” (’30s Glamour & Megawatt Tiffany Diamonds: An Investigation Into The ‘Death On The Nile’ Costumes).
For Gadot’s Linnet, Delgado wanted to emphasize her Hollywood-style glamour and fragility:
“I used transparent fabrics where you can see the skin, which makes her more vulnerable. These silks and chiffons are really nice to the body but Linnet doesn’t have the armor to fight against this dangerous world” (“Death on the Nile” Costume Designer Paco Delgado on Killer Cruise Wear).
Linnet’s (Gadot) hair was slightly longer than others, which according to hair designer Wakana Yoshihara, was meant to show her as “an elegant trendsetter. She was moving towards 1940s looks and had the longest hair of the cast — she was ahead of her time” ‘Death on the Nile’: Paco Delgado on Creating Gal Gadot’s Wealthy Look and That Tiffany’s Diamond).
For Emma Mackey as the jilted lover, she’s often in red, demonstrating her passion and desire for revenge. Delgado said, “She’s almost aggressive, following Linnet and her husband to Egypt. We wanted to show this passion in a very direct way by dressing Emma in red” (“Death on the Nile” Costume Designer Paco Delgado on Killer Cruise Wear).
Looking at some of the other characters…
Have you seen this version of Death on the Nile yet?