Friday, 23 August 2013

Episode-by-episode: Death on the Nile

©ITV
The third episode of Series Nine was based on the novel Death on the Nile, first published in 1937. It was adapted for television by Kevin Elyot and directed by Andy Wilson.

Script versus novel
Kevin Elyot does a good job adapting one of Christie's most famous novels. It's a hard task to take on, because viewers will always have their own ideas of how certain things should be included and done. (And that's probably why the reactions have been stronger to episodes like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express - people know them so well that it's almost impossible to please every viewer). In my opinion, however, Elyot succeeds in his attempt, even though he makes a series of changes. First, several minor characters are removed, including Jim Fanthorp, Mr. Fleetwood, Signor Richetti and Nurse Bowen. The first three could hardly be considered significant losses, since they provide next to nothing to the proceedings. Nurse Bowen is a slightly more important character, but she doesn't feel missed, since her main role is assigned to Cornelia Robson instead. Second, Elyot does away with most of the pre-Egypt scenes, including Poirot's, Jaqueline's and Simon's visit to Chez Ma Tantz restaurant, the Allertons at Majorca, Van Schuyler and Cornelia in New York, the lawyers in the UK and the US and the Otterbourne's visit to Jerusalem. These scenes are hardly missed, as they do little more than set up the characters anyway. An added party sequence at the hotel in Egypt does that job quite as well. Third, Colonel Race doesn't join the cruise because he is onto one of the passengers, but because he wants to join his friend Poirot. This is a minor change, as it only does away with a 'red herring'. Fourth, Elyot adds a few lines between Jacqueline and Poirot on the boat, taken from Dead Man's Folly (It is terrible, mademoiselle, all that I have missed in life). Fifth, and most importantly, perhaps, Timothy and Rosalie's relationship has a different resolution. In fact, it is implied that Timothy is either gay or too attached to his mother (the second option is somewhat implied in the novel). All in all, however, Elyot manages to maintain much of Christie's original dialogue, humour, wit and plot, making the adaptation a largely successful one.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Andy Wilson makes excellent use of the Egyptian locations, with some beautiful shots of the ship and the archaeological sites. The opening sequence, however, is somewhat peculiar, with a shot closing in on a rooftop window (reminiscent of the Harry Potter films). But I love the entrance of Colonel Race, very much in the style of Lawrence of Arabia / Omar Sharif. The feel of that scene would be repeated for Appointment with Death and Dame Celia Westholme, too. The production design is impressive, with particular attention given to the ship. The locations used include the SS Sudan (used as the Karnak), Eltham Palace (Linnet's house), The Sofitel Winter Palace Hotel, Luxor, The Cairo Marriot Hotel (interior), the Valley of the Monkeys and Dendera Temple. Gunning's soundtrack for this episode is absolutely perfect (with a minor slip in the Hitchcock reference...). The entire score is available on the latest Poirot CD, 'Death on the Nile'.

Characters and actors
Suchet's Poirot is as good as ever, and again, there are some hints of his deepening of the portrayal, with the introduction of loneliness. See the Poirot and Me documentary for more on that aspect. Of the guest actors, there are so many standouts it's almost impossible to name them all. I'll settle down on Frances de la Tour and James Fox, both perfect for their roles.

11 comments:

  1. This was another one where I was glad to see Poirot outraged about the crime. You realize how much the book glosses over the despicability of the act by focusing on the intricate way it was planned out, and, trying to make Jackie tragic and sympathetic because she did it all for love. Am I the only one who liked Linnet better than those two when I read the book? It's kind of frightening how Christie tries to manipulate us into liking the murderers better than her.

    When I watched the Ustinov version I began to question the plausibility of Simon pulling off the murder in such a short amount of time. In this one, I was struck by how stupid the Salome Otterbourne murder is - it would have been so easy for her to just spit out the name!

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    1. "Am I the only one who liked Linnet better than those two when I read the book? It's kind of frightening how Christie tries to manipulate us into liking the murderers better than her."

      I don't think it's manipulative. Making the murder victim a nasty piece of work (and she is - she's selfish, spoilt, arrogant and deliberately sets out to steal her friend's fiancée, which is why Poirot refuses to help her) gives more people motives to kill her, and making the murderers likeable makes us less likely to suspect them and gives us mixed feelings when they're unmasked. It's a sensible - and very much tried and trusted - way of writing murder mysteries.

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    2. fact that author/producer/director try to make victim 'a nasty piece of work' to serve the story is being 'manipulative'. and a tired well worn cliché to boot.a better writer probably wont need that almost all the time, as christie does.

      so it is good that in this adaptation at least there is some outrage felt by both characters and viewers at at least one of the murderers. and some sympathy for primary victim, however arrogant.

      btw seeing the story 1st time through this, i definitely figured who the murderers were rather early(stained handkerchief wrapping the gun nailed it, among others), well before rather absurd 2nd murder and plain silly 3rd one. i guess many would if they see this 1st. usually this series rarely allows for that. i was watching rest mainly to see they do not somehow provide an irrational solution ( as they have done in some episodes) or if there is chance of 3rd person being implicated.

      all in all good as a drama and a production, but rather easy as a mystery. would have been much better without additional murders

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  2. Was Salome practically coming on to Poirot? She was close to how I would have seen Vera Rossakoff based on the books: maybe not quite as attractive, but flamboyantly dressed; boisterous; and rather...forward. Not entirely ladylike. But in the case of Salome, it seemed to make Poirot uncomfortable. No suggestion that he likes that flamboyance.

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    1. Salome Otterbourne would come on to a coat rack.

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    2. Probably true of this version of her. Not so much in the novel, I think. That version bragged about how she wasn't afraid to talk frankly about sex, but we didn't really see her pursuing it for herself.

      Salome's putting the moves on Poirot seems to take the place of the (much more innocent and platonic) friendship between Poirot and Mrs. Allerton that develops in the novel (and gives Poirot the opportunity to observe that having a detective around makes Tim so uncomfortable.)

      There was a whiff here of incestuous subtext regarding Tim and his mother; in the novel, that mother-son relationship is actually one of the less dysfunctional ones in Christie. Mrs. Allerton is not a tyrant and not trying to stop Tim from having girlfriends. On the other hand, I think it's nice that this series considered it acceptable for some of the women (e.g. Rosalie in this one, Lynn in Taken) to still be unattached by the end.

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  3. The ironic thing is that the 1978 version featured more changes to Christie's novel. Yet, I prefer it over this version.

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  4. Was I the only one who was reminded, by Linnet herself, but more by Ferguson's rants about Linnet's fame, of a certain person who is in the US press a lot? (Hint: Both initials are K.)

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  5. My favourite episode, even though it's not my favourite book. (I like the book but there are several better.) it's got great characters, a clever murder (even if it's a bit implausible) and a wonderfully exotic setting. I agree with fangirl82 that Salome's murder is a bit silly, and the second gun at the end is too convenient, but the whole thing's just so much fun.

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  6. The sex scene at the beginning felt a little gratuitous to me...I realize we needed to see Simon and Jackie planning their future, before Linnet comes between them - but that could have been accomplished as it was in the book, interactions between the characters without sex scenes. However, if you think about it, it's a sly play on words. In the book, Jackie tells Poirot at the end, "Remember when you saw Simon and me at the restaurant? We were making whoopee." By which she just meant "celebrating"...however, the movie is using the more modern, slang version of that term.

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  7. It was a decent production, but I had some problems with it. The second half of the movie seemed a bit rushed. I thought the third murder was handled in a slightly sloppy manner. And I wasn't that impressed by some of the costumes and hairstyles, including Emily Blunt's blond wig. And when was this story set? According to Jim Ferguson, Hitler was about to come into power in Germany. Yet, Andrew Pennington's ship ticket indicated that he had traveled from New York in January 1936. Confused.

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I'm a passionate fan of Poirot, Agatha Christie and the ITV series. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or requests, please e-mail me at poirotchronology@gmail.com, post a comment on one of my blogs, or get in touch on Twitter @pchronology. (I used to call myself HickoryDickory)