Poirot and the necessity of a backstory

I recently watched Death on the Nile, the 2 year delayed remake of Agatha Christie’s classic Poirot adventure. After the enjoyable remake of Murder on the Orient Express, I’m happy to see the a modern entry of this intriguing story and the return of Poirot to the big screen.

I like Poirot as a character. Cited to have solved more important cases than the viewer will ever see; he solves his cases by asking the right questions, being at the right place at the right time and connecting the dots by using reasoning and psychology. Poirot’s little grey cells are always registering something which involves the case, which makes him more dangerous than any regular policeman.

But those are the character’s qualities we only see when he is on the hunt. When he is simply relaxing or between interrogations the man is very preoccupied with his moustache and looks. And behaves a little funny according to people he meets. Which makes him a charming and intriguing character.

Different eras, different Poirot

Every actor who played Poirot has put their own spin on the sleuth. Be it Albert Finney, David Suchet or Peter Ustinov. The latest iteration with Kenneth Branagh is a more dramatic figure. One who would not be misplaced in a theatre. For me, this seems to be even more the case in Death on the Nile. Poirot is put at the centre of the film as a character with a dramatic background. One created so the viewer can relate more to the man. While it is an interesting take and it certainly adds some emotional depth to the character, I found that it doesn’t add anything to the story. It unnecessarily inflates the runtime and distracts from the people who should be the flavour of the story: the suspects.

I like it when a film doesn’t add unnecessary fluff. Especially in detectives. For me, the detective is just the character that the audience follows to understand the case. We do not need to know anything about this character unless there is a personal stake. The 1978 version of Death on the Nile is an excellent example of that. We learn personal bits about the sleuth in his conversations with others, but we never dive deep into his psyche or his emotional state. That isn’t the purpose of the story. The audience is there to watch the situation culminate into murder and work with the detective to solve the case. The suspects are the flavour of the story, especially in a serialised universe1.

Interesting characters

Let’s jump to a recent classic for comparison: Knives Out. It is a well written film which ticks my boxes for a murder mystery. While it may not follow the traditional murder mystery story structure, it certainly gives us A: an interesting sleuth and B: an interesting cast of characters. Which are both important to keep the audience engaged. The difference with 2022’s Death on the Nile is that at the end of Knives Out we still know very little about detective Blanc. Which isn’t neccesary because the Thrombeys and Marta are the ones keeping us engaged with the story. Which is something that I’m not really confident to say about Death on the Nile. If we were to cut all the dramatic fluff surrounding Poirot on screen and have Branagh act with that information it will at the very least be a more streamlined film. Because the fluff draws the attention away from the the ones who should be on the forefront. It would give the characters more space to interact, giving the audience a chance to learn and remember their backgrounds.  

Besides that, it still is exciting to have new Poirot content. I hope that there will be a new film which is more tightly written and focuses less on Poirot and more on the mystery. That’s why I’m in the theatre. And I’m sure those simple changes will make solving the case a more satisfying experience.

  1. Considering there are 2 Branagh films alongside all the other Poirot content.