I love a whodunnit even when I know who did it. And who doesn’t know who did it in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile? It’s Kenneth Branagh’s second outing as the Belgium sleuth, with a tash so vigorous you wonder how it stays up. Branagh first cut his teeth as Poirot on Murder on the Orient Express back in 2017 where he introduced us to a more troubled, introspective private eye, quite different from the fastidious and slightly fey comic version we’ve come to expect. This time around we learn more about Poirot’s back story: a man scarred in every sense by the savage reality of the Great War. This isn’t quite as Agatha wrote it and, no doubt, purists will hate the update. When the elegant SS Karnak set forth once again on that fateful Nile cruise, many critics asked why bother? I, for one, enjoyed the choppy adventure.
I was a little nervous when I took my seat to watch Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical film about the life of a working-class family in late sixties Belfast. It was a time when the Troubles really exploded on the streets, and I was dreading being slapped about the face by the grim senselessness of sectarianism.
But despite the nightmarish backdrop, there’s something incredibly warm and generous about the film. Set to a Van Morrison soundtrack (with a little help from Love Affair’s Everlasting Love) and shot in radiant black and white, the tender and funny script has a simple question at its heart – leave for a brighter future ‘across the water’ or stay for kith and kin and all that’s familiar. It was a choice faced by generations of Irish people – including our own.
The sparkling cast really deliver – anything with Judi Dench gets my vote – and despite the eye candy that is Jamie Dornan, the stand-out performance has to be from Jude Hill as Buddy, the young boy around whom the story revolves.
Do they stay or do they go? Here’s a clue. Sir Kenneth Branagh is now one of the UK’s foremost actors and directors.
Here’s the trailer…
We’ve seen a few films recently, most notably God’s Own Country, a windswept tale of romance and raunch between a monosyllabic, emotionally-repressed Yorkshire hill farmer (Josh O’Connor – the literary one from the Durrells) and an enlightened and worldly-wise labourer from Romania (a superbly self-possessed Alec Secăreanu). It’s a kinda coming out tale for the Brexit generation and a tad ironic given the reception gay people usually receive in Romania. Liam thought it was all a bit too Wuthering Heights. I enjoyed the desolation but only because it was finally relieved by a bit of boy-gets-boy at the end. The critics praised the film but damned the redemption. Critics seem to love grim tales that leave you reaching for the gin and pills.
We also saw The Party, a dark satirical farce filmed entirely in black and white about a soiree of smug, fizz-swigging Islington intellectuals whose lives (and leftie credentials) visibly unravel before your eyes. They wriggle while the vol-au-vents burn. I really wanted to like this film but didn’t. There were some great lines…
“You’re a first-class lesbian and a second-rate thinker,”
…and a great twist at the end but it all got a bit too slapstick – and not half as clever as it thinks it is. I nearly reached for the gin and pills.
And then came the main event. Murder on the Orient Express is arguably Agatha Christie’s most ingenious plot. I’ve seen the 1974 star-studded version many times so I know whodunit but did I care? Kenneth Branagh’s re-make (both as director and as Poirot – the Belgian sleuth, sporting gravity-defying face furniture) may be slightly less stellar, cast-wise, but it more than made up for it with spectacle and opulent period detail, dishing up characters less cardboard cut-out than the usual Christie servings. The famously snowed-in train provided an afternoon of pure escapism that really dried out a rainy day. It sparkled – from the dramatic Istanbul skyline to Branagh’s anguished Poirot. Later, we raised a gin or two to the new Hercule. No pills required.