The latest in a long line of star-studded adaptations of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, Death on the Nile sinks without trace under the weight of Kenneth Branagh’s all-consuming ego. Failing to understand that one of the pleasures of such films is the attention given to the impressive cast, he instead gives his focus entirely to his own performance as Poirot, engaging in mythmaking and heroics at the expense of everybody else. In its limited capacity, the focus on Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express worked for Mike – here, there’s no defending it.
This wasn’t as cringey as I expected it to be. I hadn’t realised Stephen Frears is the director. And he does a fine job indeed.
Judi Dench is absolutely extraordinary in the role that first made her a star twenty years ago (Mrs. Brown, John Madden, 1997): she not only brings all her stage-craft and know-how but gives her body up to the camera so that it too can contribute to what’s being dramatised: those hanging folds over the lonely eyes, the wrinkled skin of someone who’s lived too well and lived too long. Frears put the camera on Dench and she no longer fears it or ‘performs’ for it: the camera is placed and then she places herself in it to offer her eyes and skin, a tone of voice, pitched just so; a glance, line-readings that know cadences and haven’t forgotten the power of timing. She’s in a league of her own. But Ali Fazal is very good as the munshi and an excellent counterpoint both dramatically and visually — he’s tall, dark and handsome. And it’s great to see Osborne, and the jewels and the outfit.
It’s not much of a story really, and what is shown is a bit of a whitewash: the establishment was really racist, but the queen who’s on top of everything isn’t etc etc. Eddie Izzard is very good but my favourite was Olivia Williams as Lady Churchill, eavesdropping at every opportunity, glaring her indignation at all passersby, having an eye cocked to every opportunity. Only great actors do so much with so little.