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 on Frances de la Tour and James Fox, both perfect for their roles.