Movies

How Faithful Is Death on the Nile to Agatha Christie’s Classic Novel?

This time around, even Hercule Poirot’s mustache gets a tragic origin story.

The two actors are on a riverboat. Gadot turns toward the camera in fear, while Hammer wears a vastly inferior mustache.
Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot in Death on the Nile. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by 20th Century Studios.

This post contains spoilers for Death on the Nile, including the ending.

Director Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green have teamed up to adapt another one of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels. In Death on the Nile, heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and her new husband Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) are on their honeymoon in Egypt and are being stalked by Simon’s ex-fiancée Jacqueline (Sex Education’s Emma Mackey). As they travel by steamer boat along the Nile, Linnet is killed, throwing suspicion onto the boat’s passengers. Fortunately, detective Hercule Poirot (played once again by Branagh) is among them. Green’s script plays up the book’s themes of love and passion and makes some bold changes in the process—not all of them successful. We’ve highlighted the most significant differences from the original, below.

Hercule Poirot

As in 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh plays Christie’s detective himself and—like in Murder on the Orient Express—is not content to merely portray the fussy little mustachioed dude we know from the books, instead turning Poirot into a tragic hero, complete with a new backstory. The film’s opening scenes reveal that before becoming a detective, Poirot was a soldier in the first world war with plans to get married and become a farmer. He was injured in battle and his love interest was killed in a train bombing. Heck, even Poirot’s glorious mustache gets a tragic origin story: He grew it to cover up his scars.

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Lest we forget who is the star of this movie, Poirot has been added to scenes he isn’t in in the book, overhearing conversations he wouldn’t otherwise be privy to, so that the viewer’s experience of the story is almost entirely from his perspective.

The suspects

Christie’s Death on the Nile has a rather large cast, so Green makes even more cuts than he did for Murder on the Orient Express. Some changes to the characters are superficial—Gal Gadot’s Linnet is not a blonde—others much more significant, including composites to reduce the number of characters the audience must remember and changes to accommodate more diverse casting. Salome Otterbourne, a romance novelist in the book, instead becomes a Black blues singer (Sophie Okonedo). Whereas in the book she is accompanied by her daughter Rosalie, in the movie Rosalie (Letitia Wright) is actually her niece and business manager.

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Comedy duo Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French are reunited as the wealthy Marie Van Schuyler and her nurse companion Mrs. Bowers, but in the movie, Marie Van Schuyler has actually given up her wealth and embraced communism, a nod to communist and secret lord Mr. Ferguson, a character in the book who was cut. The movie’s Mrs. Bowers is similarly actually a composite of Marie Van Schuyler’s nurse Miss Bowers and cousin Cornelia Robson. Also, unlike in the book, Hercule, they’re lesbians.

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Linus Windlesham (a nearly unrecognizable Russell Brand) stands in for two characters: Charles Windlesham, a lord rejected by Linnet, and Dr. Bessner, who takes care of Simon after Jacqueline shoots him in the leg.

The character Bouc, who was reimagined as young and dashing in Murder on the Orient Express, makes a surprise reappearance here, I guess as part of Branagh’s efforts to create a Hercule Poirot Extended Cinematic Universe. He stands in for the book’s Tim Allerton, who is travelling with his overprotective mother. A bizarre subplot in the movie involves Poirot having secretly been hired by Bouc’s mother (Annette Bening) to investigate Rosalie, with whom he has fallen in love; in the book, Tom’s mother is actually pleased when he falls for Rosalie.

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In the book, Poirot has a friend and confidant in Colonel Race, who is on a mission of his own in Egypt, seeking a political agitator. He and his target, Signor Richetti, are both absent from the film, leaving Bouc to perform sidekick duties.

The mystery

The solution to the mystery remains largely the same on both page and screen: Jacqueline and Simon were behind the scheme together all along to steal Linnet’s money. Jacqueline only pretended to shoot Simon in the leg during an argument, giving Simon time to sneak away, kill Linnet, and then shoot himself for real to cement his alibi. (In a slight twist, Simon uses paint, not red nail polish, as fake blood for his fake injury in the movie.) With Jacqueline detained for shooting Simon, and Simon supposedly injured at the time Linnet was killed, they are both cleared of suspicion—at first.

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Simon and Jacqueline then kill twice more to cover their tracks: First, they kill Linnet’s maid for trying to blackmail them, and then a third witness who is about to reveal the killer’s identity to Poirot. In the book, that witness is Mrs. Otterbourne; in the movie, it’s poor Bouc, meaning Rosalie doesn’t get her happy ending and actor Tom Bateman doesn’t get to come back in the next sequel as a sidekick again.

The ending

As in the book, Jacqueline shoots herself and Simon rather than face the consequences of their actions, though in the novel it’s something Poirot allows to happen out of sympathy. The characters who survive in the movie face bleak futures, what with Bouc’s mother and Rosalie in mourning. The final shot of the film sees Poirot listening to Salome sing the blues in a nightclub, having finally shaved his mustache to reveal his scars. It’s largely a bummer of an ending for a bummer of a movie, but audiences can take comfort in knowing that Poirot’s mustache has been freed to go be in other, better projects.

Product placement

Linnet’s pearl necklace in the book has been replaced in the movie by a necklace with a huge honkin’ gem on it, in a box with a very prominent Tiffany & Co. logo. This box is featured in several shots, lest audiences forget that this is a replica of the Tiffany diamond, provided by Tiffany & Co., a company founded by Charles Lewis Tiffany. No whodunnit here! It’s very clear that Tiffany dunnit.

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