It's Kenneth Branagh's 60th birthday today, and we're saluting him by looking ahead to his next movie: Death on the Nile.
From Shakespearean adaptations to comic book fantasias, Branagh has diversified as both an actor and director. He's now set to return to the realm of Agatha Christie, bringing us another spellbinding mystery adaptation.
As with 2017's box office hit Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh pulls double-duty as director and star, once more donning the impressive facial whiskers as dedicated detective Hercule Poirot. Scroll down to find out more about the movie.
What is the story of Death on the Nile?
Expert Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot is vacationing in Egypt, having come to terms with his recent Orient Express investigation. However, there's no rest for the wicked – on board a luxury cruise down the Nile river on the S.S. Carnak, Poirot's holiday is rudely interrupted by a sudden death.
Wealthy heiress Linnet-Ridgeway Doyle is the victim, and there's a multitude of suspects to choose from. Who is the killer? Is it Linnet's fiance, Simon? The wealthy Marie van Schuyler? Or someone else entirely?
Poirot must act quickly, working with his assistant Bouc to expose and catch the murderer before they strike again.
When was Death on the Nile published?
Death on the Nile first arrived on 1st November 1937, inspired in part by Agatha Christie's regular visits to Africa and the Middle-East with her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan. In fact, she incorporated knowledge of his profession into her books. Death on the Nile's references to the Egyptian temple of Abu Simbel (recreated in the movie), for example, are derived from Christie's own observations. Ironically enough, Branagh's movie was shot in Morocco with Surrey's Longcross Studios acting as the interiors.
In early drafts, Agatha Christie considered making this a Miss Marple story. In fact, when she later adapted Death on the Nile for the stage, she replaced Poirot altogether, fearing he would distract from the rest of the narrative.
Listen to an extract from the audiobook, read by Kenneth Branagh himself.
Death on the Nile was well-received on its original publication, and has gained in stature over the years. That said, The Guardian didn't list it as one of the best Agatha Christie books in a 2019 article, instead favouring Murder on the Orient Express, as well as non-Poirot stories like the riveting And Then There Were None.
Regardless, Death on the Nile became part of a pantheon of classic crime mysteries that have sold more than one billion copies worldwide. Agatha Christie is regularly cited as the bestselling author of all time, and it's therefore little wonder that filmmakers, on the big and small screens, find themselves fascinated by her work. Branagh says that this adaptation of Death on the Nile will add distinctly sultry notes to the Christie template.
“Love, as he says, is not safe and it’s certainly not safe in [this adaptation of Death on the Nile],” Branagh told The Fourth Wall Podcast (via The Playlist). “Michael Green [the screenwriter] really has deepened the connection with the character [Poirot]. Going off of Agatha Christie’s personal treatment of it, his deepening of what Poirot goes through in relation to the story and then the power and sexiness of lust and love as it runs through the story is very strong.
"It’s a very dark, very sexy, unsettling kind of film. It certainly delivers on the travel log as it takes you to big and exciting different places, but it’s very uncomfortable in ways people will really understand because it has to do with love, possession, lust, jealousy, big primal emotions that really get in people’s way.”
Who stars in Death on the Nile?
Wonder Woman 1984 star Gal Gadot plays the ill-fated Linnet, while Call Me By Your Name's Armie Hammer plays Simon. As with Murder on the Orient Express, there's a star-studded supporting cast fleshing out the line-up of potential suspects, including Jennifer Saunders as Marie Van Schuyler, Captain Marvel's Annette Bening as Euphemia Bouc, Russell Brand as Dr. Windlesham, Dawn French as Mrs. Bowers, Ali Fazal as Andrew Katchadourian, Black Panther's Letitia Wright as Rosalie Otterbourne, Sophie Okenedo as Salome Otterbourne and Game of Thrones' Rose Leslie as Louise Bourget.
Sex Education's Emma Mackey portrays Jacqueline de Bellefort and Tom Bateman returns from the previous film as Bouc. (It's not clear if Benning and Bateman's characters, who share the same surname, are connected.)
Will there be more Agatha Christie book adaptations?
Branagh has spoken about the possibility of an Agatha Christie extended movie universe. The events of this film were teased during the climax of 2017's Murder on the Orient Express. while Christie's stories are standalone thrillers. However, there are references to Orient Express within the fabric of the Death on the Nile book: at one point, Poirot opens his luggage to find a scarlet kimono inside, a reference to a vital clue during his earlier investigation on the luxury train.
"I think there are possibilities, aren't there?" Branagh has said. "With 66 books and short stories and plays, she — and she often brings people together in her own books actually, so innately — she enjoyed that. You feel as though there is a world — just like with Dickens, there's a complete world that she's created — certain kinds of characters who live in her world — that I think has real possibilities."