Following the reasonably well received and profitable Murder On The Orient Express, director and star Kenneth Branagh garnered enough momentum to dive further into the Agatha Christie back catalogue.
Following a prologue, we are introduced to another group of pampered rich folk in 1937, travelling on a paddle-steamer down the Nile in Egypt. Secluded, cut off and all bound together with no chance of escape, perfect for a murder or two.
The flimsy pretext to bring all these troubled souls together is the wedding and honeymoon of “Simon” (Armie Hammer) and “Linnet” (Gal Gadot), celebrated at an exclusive hotel in Egypt, before decamping to the aforementioned steamer.
Christie was always about creating more red herrings than a well stocked sea of scarlet coloured aquatic creatures. This is no exception with a literal boat load of characters with motive and access to murder, all explored to the full.
Jilted lover “Jacqueline” (Emma Mackey), cousin and executor “Kathadourian” (Ali Fazal), “Doctor Windlesham” (Russell Brand), various maids, old school friends and assortment of other characters sketched by Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Letitia Wright, Sophie Okonedo & Tom Bateman.
The film commences with a WW1 trench set piece, effectively creating an origin story for the main character “Hercule Poirot” (Kenneth Branagh) and his much discussed fulsome moustache. Branagh pulling double duties as central actor and director of the film.
Owing to the pandemic, the film has been much delayed not only in principal photography but also distribution, which undoubtedly hurt it’s chances at the box office. Also in the era of the more modern Knives Out, this “drawing room style murder mystery” has moved on, leaving this interpretation looking a little moribund, flat and theatrical.
It is obvious the main cast went no closer to Egypt than the British Museum, with most filming being created using a mixture of clever sets and extensive use of CGI, much of which is shiny and fake, taking viewers out of the story.
Branagh takes centre stage in every sense, as most other characters enjoy less screen time, despite being central to the story. Making the film more of a character study of the most famous Belgian detective, rather than a true murder mystery. Which most will guess “whodunit” before the credits roll.
Arguably the rich seam of Poirot has been extensively mined before, notably by David Suchet in the British television series. Perhaps Poirot’s real appeal is as cipher, an enigma, unknowing whether he has family, who he loves and what motivates him.
Overall not a bad film and a definite step up from Murder On The Orient Express, the movie also suffered during release from “negative” publicity around Hammer, who plays a major role in the film.
A pleasant enough way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon, with no superheroes or explosions but unlikely to get the younger set flocking to the cinema. For an older audience well served elsewhere on the small screen, this may represent a brief forgettable diversion.
Whether the famous detective will get to to trim his moustache one more time, remains to be seen.