Monday With Mildred: “Death on the Nile”

Death on the Nile movie poster

Death on the Nile

I still remember fondly the youthful summer I discovered Agatha Christie novels while prowling the library and reading every book they had. They were the first mystery novels I had read and they are of course fantastic. Except there was one character she used a lot I couldn’t stand, and of course that was Hercule Poirot. He was a kind of man I was unused to being around and I found his ultra-fastidious nature annoying at best. Imagine my surprise when, decades later, I discovered that Poirot on the screen is a lot of fun, especially as directed and portrayed by one of my favorite directors, Kenneth Branagh. His Murder on the Orient Express was great, and I’ve enjoyed Poirot several times on PBS.

Death on the Nile is, as typical for Christie, awash with rich English notables blithely using their privilege to travel down the Nile on a luxury steamboat on the cusp of WWII. Suave Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) buys out the boat for the beginning of the trip to protect his new fiancée Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Godot) from the women she stole him from (Jacqueline de Bellefort, Emma Mackey) at the beginning of the story. The theft has not gone over well and the scorned woman insists on dangling a pot of boiling rabbit stew in front of Linnet. When Jacqueline boards the boat murders most foul begin. It’s Christie, what else would you expect.

The boy toy theft is not really the beginning of the movie. Branagh tacked on a whole heart tugging sequence set twenty years previous during WWI in which we learn the hows and whys of Poirot’s massive, famously fussy mustache, and the accompanying hole in his heart. This, and the complementary scene at the very end of the film is completely made up by Branagh, are totally unnecessary to the plot and totally not original Christie. Hollywood fixing an original story created by a genius writer is one of my biggest pet peeves. This film is a master class in why the fixing is not only not needed to enhance an already brilliant story, but that the additions are a detriment to the whole. Branagh has not improved Christie’s original and the bookends do not fit the story in a believable way. Since it’s been decades since I read the original, I didn’t quite remember these sequences weren’t canon, but they felt wrong and I googled it as soon as the movie was over and discovered my intuition was spot on. The sequences didn’t feel right, and I found out later there was a reason for it. While doing this research I found out there’s another reason Death on the Nile is not a fan favorite and did poorly at the box office.

Technically, Death of the Nile is a fine film except for the additions that most people won’t notice are tacked on, with high cinematic qualities and solid performances. But I live in a hinterland of no internet service, so I had no idea why this movie had not done well in the theater. Googling the badly fitted bookends revealed another part of the story and even a little looking into the film showed that one of the main actors is yet another guy who became famous before his personal character became public knowledge. Apparently, Armie Hammer is one of those guys you find out later you really shouldn’t hire as your leading actor before nasty revelations come out. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to Army of the Deadhim, and this is one of the reasons the movie tanked. Personally, I have no problem with having nasty revelations about your personal life impede your professional life. I’m sick of people basking in the adoration of others and making tons of money while being an actual massive jerk of a human.

Watch this film if you are an Agatha Christie fan who doesn’t mind Hollywood meddling in a classic story and the unfortunate addition of a nasty human in a leading role. I found myself not liking the movie throughout, and only discovered later why I was uncomfortable but you may like it better.


CFR: In Addtion: I have never read an Agatha Christie novel and maybe one day I will. I am not surprised to read that Mildred says the movie is different than the book. I remember watching the move, which I enjoyed, and thinking “I seriously doubt Christie was that smart about lesbians and the treatment of black people. Then again, what do I know?” I think those parts were all Brannagh and I appreciate them.

The movie was beautiful.

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