The moustache of Hercule Poirot, one of Agatha Christie’s most famous long-running characters, is his trademark. However, even the mystery of this moustache is solved in the newest long-waited remake of “Death on the Nile.”
In it, Kenneth Branagh ("Hamlet", "Wallander") plays Agatha Christie's famous oddball Belgian detective for the second time after the box-office success of "Murder on the Orient Express" (2017).
The "world's greatest detective" would actually like to have some peace and quiet, but ends up getting involved in another murder case. As well as taking the lead, Branagh is also returning as the director, while Ridley Scott ("Blade Runner," "House of Gucci") is one of the producers.
The film was dogged by delays during production, but above all, the allegations made against one key actor have stained the release of what could have won over many fans of Peter Ustinov's Poirot adaptations.
After all, this is a bombastic cinematic spectacle set in a glamorous version of Egypt with big-name stars in 1930s costumes, including "Wonder Woman" Gal Gadot, Russell Brand and Annette Bening.
It's certainly missing the cult persona of Ustinov as Poirot and as a Christie adaptation, it's not to be compared with the old Miss Marple films.
It's a classic whodunnit, but updated with the slick studio visuals of today. One essential tradition remains: At the climax, Poirot solves all mysteries with all suspects present. And of course almost all of them had a potential motive.
Branagh's story begins in black and white with Poirot's backstory: as a (still moustache-less) soldier in the First World War, he uses his sleuthing skills to save his company and ends up wounded in hospital, where he meets the love of his life at his bedside. Visual effects also help to rejuvenate the 61-year-old Branagh on screen.
The film then travels to London, to a nightclub where the rich heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gadot) falls in love with the charming Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer).
A little later Poirot is sitting in front of the pyramids in Egypt, at a picnic table with two boiled eggs beside him.
His old acquaintance Bouc (Tom Bateman) brings Poirot to a wedding party on the Nile, where Simon's former love Jacqueline (Emma Mackey) turns up.
Suddenly, the bride is shot. It won't be the only body on the Nile cruiser, where snapping crocodiles are never far.
The story is convoluted and somewhat absurd, but is carried by Branagh, who plays Poirot lovingly.
Despite the murder at the heart of them, Agatha Christie's detective stories have something soothing about them. They are not the stuff of horror and you know you can count on a clean resolution in the end.
"Death on the Nile," published in 1937, was written after a trip to Egypt. Branagh said he wanted a more "youthful approach" with his adaptation. "Everything about the story is now younger and sexier, literally and aesthetically."
During the pandemic, this Disney production, which according to media reports cost around $90 million, was on hold for a long time, much like the repeatedly postponed new Bond movie.
The sets also needed plenty of time, and the construction of the temple ruins of Aswan alone took 10 weeks, while the spectacular steamer required 30 weeks. An Egyptian spice market on the banks of the Nile was staged in the Cotswold Water Park west of London.
Although the thriller had already finished filming in 2019, soon after that serious allegations of sexual assault emerged surrounding actor Armie Hammer ("Call Me By Your Name"). He denied them, but his career has since gone downhill, and police in Los Angeles are still investigating.
In "Death on the Nile" Hammer's role is so central that it would have been difficult to edit him out.
Given the opulent nature of the production, it would also have been expensive to shoot the crime thriller from scratch and particularly complicated because of the pandemic. Disney did not comment on this when asked.
Ultimately there's no trace of cancel culture in this film, unlike other recent productions to have removed shamed actors like Kevin Spacey, and the cast remains the same here. But Disney barely mentions Hammer's name in the press notes.