With the success of Murder on the Orient Express in 1974, it was inevitable that EMI and Paramount would find another Agatha Christie whodunit to adapt. It was 1978 that gave audiences another all-star mystery, another exotic locale, another corpse in a stateroom.
Death on the Nile was the second in a series of films featuring super sleuth Hercule Poirot. Albert Finney, nominated for the role in Orient Express, declined to take part in the follow-up, citing hot costume that would become overbearing in "the roasting afternoon sun." Peter Ustinov, a two-time Oscar Winner for Best Supporting Actor, came on board in his stead, and it stuck: Ustinov would play the role in two more films and three made-for-TV movies. Along for the ride were four Academy Award Winners (Bette Davis, George Kennedy, David Niven, Maggie Smith), two nominees (Angela Lansbury, Jack Warden), Mia Farrow, Olivia Hussey, and future Bond Girl Lois Chiles. Even the director had Oscar attached to his name, having directed the Academy Award-winning 1974 disaster epic The Towering Inferno: John Guillermin, fresh off the King Kong remake.
Death on the Nile is most certainly not Murder on the Orient Express. It has none of the glamor of that earlier production. It does not have the Lumet Touch. And while Murder boasted a cast of immortals, who the hell remembers Simon MacCorkindale? Yet Death on the Nile is an enjoyable romp on its own, with fantastic turns from Davis, Smith and Lansbury -- who all shared a dressing room; a rousing score from Nino Rota -- who far surpasses Richard Rodney Bennett's work on Murder; and exquisite costumes from Anthony Powell.
Indeed, it is Powell alone who found himself honored by the most revered nude figure in the history of the whole human race. Although BAFTA nominated Smith, Lansbury and Ustinov, the Oscars gave the film but one nomination: Costume Design. Fortunately, it didn't need any other noms. Powell was victorious, winning the Oscar for designs Bette Davis herself deemed "superb".
Personally, I adore the movie. Davis and Smith have great chemistry, and the screenplay by Anthony Shaffer expertly pares down the narrative while remaining true to the source material. And again, that score.
What I do miss from the film are a number of the supporting characters from the novel. There are six other characters in the book that did not make it to this version, three of whom had a larger impact on the original story than two of the characters retained here. The 2004 television movie starring David Suchet brought the three back, but deleted Maggie Smith's character; a travesty.
In this Casting Coup, I envision a perfect adaptation that retains all nineteen characters. It, too, is a cast of well-knowns, for I believe whole-heartedly in the "who's who in whodunit". And so, ladies and gents, I do give you the victim, the suspects, the sleuths, and the rest of Death on the Nile:
THE HON. JOANNA SOUTHWOOD
Who is She: A posh friend of Linnet's. Joanna is spoiled and a snob. She is close friends with her cousin Tim, but cares more for herself than anyone else. She does not go to Egypt, but her actions in England have curious effects on the rest of the cast.
Christina Cole (Casino Royale, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day)
In the BBC's Jane Eyre, Cole portrayed the snob Blanche Ingram. In Miss Pettigrew, Cole portrayed the bitch Charlotte Warren. In What a Girl Wants, Cole portrayed the snobby bitch Clarissa Payne. See a pattern?
Who is She: An American heiress living in England. Linnet has always gotten everything she's ever wanted, but she never seems to be aware of it. She purchases Wode Hall without blinking; she waves away marriage proposals from dukes like they were nothing; and she marries her best friend's fiancee because "it was inevitable". With that chip on her shoulder, it is small wonder that Linnet is found dead in her cabin from a gunshot wound to the head.
Originally played by:
Lois Chiles (The Great Gatsby, Moonraker)
Jessica Biel (Ulee's Gold, Easy Virtue)
So, I recently found out that Biel is actually a pretty solid actress. Linnet needs to be played by an actress "so beautiful it'd put a lump in your throat", and has a backbone. Biel has played strong women a number of times; indeed, her failures come when she is cast as eye candy alone. I understand, but Biel could humanize Linnet in a way Chiles never thought to. I mean, really: if I don't like the victim, who cares whodunit?
Who is She: Widowed mother of Tim, she is absolutely devoted to her son. Fearing that he may become a Mama's Boy, though, she frequently pushes him towards eligible young women...as long as they aren't his nasty cousin, Joanna Southwood. Mrs. Allerton takes a shine to Poirot.
My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress (Tom & Viv) and Best Supporting Actress (Damage), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Damage), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (Enchanted April), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Supporting Female (The Apostle), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (The Hours)
Miranda Richardson (Southland Tales, The Young Victoria)
Is it odd that I automatically associate her with middle class middle age? That's not a knock on her, I merely mean that she excels at portraying the kind of woman I grew up with, though I suppose it's not the type of role most common for her. Mrs. Allerton is a comic figure with surprisingly brilliant yet logical flashes of insight. Richardson could that.
Who is He: Cousin to Joanna, son of Mrs., Tim is one of those bored young men. A childhood illness kept him indoors most of his life, causing him to look at his mother as his closest companion. Indeed, they are more friends than mother-and-son. Her companionship is all he requires or desires, until he sets eyes on the "more than quite" Rosalie Otterbourne.
Rupert Friend (Pride & Prejudice, Cheri)
One of the most talented newcomers working today. Friend can play bored, scheming, charming, boyish, wealthy, whatever. And, truth be told, his pale skin does rather help with the whole "sick as a child" thing.
DR. LUDWIG BESSNER
Who is He: An Austrian physician who slurps his soup. In the film, he ran a clinic that Linnet denounced in the press. In the novel, the two are strangers, but he does provide two suspects with air-tight alibis.
Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Shampoo, Heaven Can Wait), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Shampoo)
Jack Warden (Bullets Over Broadway, Mighty Aphrodite)
My Choice: SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Inglourious Basterds)
Sylvester Groth (My Fuhrer, The Reader)
Who is She: Linnet's French maid. It is she who discovers the body, who realizes the pearls are missing, who has no alibi for the night of the murder...
Originally played by:
Jane Birkin (Evil Under the Sun, The Last September)
Ludivine Sagnier (Peter Pan, Moliere)
Who is She: Nurse to Marie Van Schuyler. In the film, she spars regularly with the old woman. In the novel, she is more patient and understanding. Like Dr. Bessner, she is able to provide an alibi for two suspects the night of the murder...but what about her own?
Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) and Best Supporting Actress (California Suite), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actress (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, A Private Function, A Room with a View, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne) and Best Supporting Actress (Tea with Mussolini), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (California Suite) and Best Supporting Actress (A Room with a View), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Gosford Park)
Maggie Smith (Evil Under the Sun, Becoming Jane)
Cherry Jones (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Amelia)
Jones is a comfort to me. In the original novel, Bowers was much more of a caregiver, though she had some wit in her. Jones, an under-appreciated actress, is pretty handy with the witticisms, but to me she always exudes warmth, first and foremost. Clearly, I never saw her in Doubt.
JACQUELINE DE BELLEFORT
Who is She: Linnet's best friend. Jackie comes from an Anglo-American family that fell on hard times. Engaged to Simon Doyle, she introduces him to her best friend, Linnet Ridgeway, in hopes of securing him a job as her land agent. Instead, Linnet marries him, and Jackie has a breakdown, following the couple as they honeymoon all over the globe. Her doings the night of the murder are of great interest indeed...
Originally played by: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (John and Mary/Rosemary's Baby/Secret Ceremony, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress in a Drama (Rosemary's Baby) and Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (John and Mary, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Alice)
Happy 65th Birthday: Mia Farrow (A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, The Omen)
Romola Garai (Vanity Fair, Atonement)
I've been a fan since Vanity Fair. Garai is one of those great, unassuming actresses who you rarely remember because she plays her part so perfectly. She can even plain it up, like in Atonement, which is fine for Jackie -- she should be cute, after all, but Linnet must remain beautifuller. It's a juicy role for any actress, and one I feel Garai has earned.
Who is He: Jackie's fiance, then Linnet's husband. Simon is "handsome, boyish...utterly adorable". Simon does not care to read fine print, nor is he too sensitive to remark that Jackie was "too fond" of him. There is no doubting the passion between him and Linnet, though.
Originally played by:
Simon MacCorkindale (Jaws 3-D, Wing Commander)
My Choice: SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Inglourious Basterds)
Michael Fassbender (Hunger, 300)
Handsome, boyish, utterly adorable. The best male actor in Inglourious Basterds. The kind of guy you could see kissing you then marrying your best friend. And you'd still love him, like Jackie still somehow loves Simon. I like this Fassbender chap.
Who is He: A representative for Linnet's English solicitors. He fears that her American representation is crooked. He hears a gunshot the night of the murder...though not necessaarily the fatal one.
Martin Freeman (The Good Night, Hot Fuzz)
Fanthorp appears unassuming, but is actually rather clever, secretive, and strong-willed. I feel we've seen Freeman play those gentle chaps that come through when the chips are down enough times that we can rely on him for such a role.
Who is He: A dedicated Communist. He sees Linnet's death as a blessing, viewing the rich to be parasites who ought to be offed. He spends much of his time with Cornelia. In the film, he is a combination of Ferguson, Fanthorp, and Allerton.
Originally played by:
Jon Finch (Sunday Bloody Sunday, Frenzy)
Toby Kebbell (Control, RockNRolla)
I've only seen him in Control, but I remember him playing a rude, outspoken, screamingly funny manager of Joy Division. He's great in that movie. Playing Ferguson requires our believing you have balls; Kebbell acts like he's got balls.
Who is She: The much put-upon daughter of Salome Otterbourne. Though she is quite a pretty girl, she appears "sullen and bad-tempered". She is actually very unhappy, and hides under a veil of sarcasm and bitter wit. Yet she often shows a tender sweetness, and people seem drawn to her: Poirot, Jackie,and especially Tim Allerton.
Originally played by:
Olivia Hussey (Romeo & Juliet, Black Christmas)
My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe/SAG Award/Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actress [in a Drama] and SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (An Education)
Carey Mulligan (Pride & Prejudice, Marple: The Sittaford Mystery)
Mulligan can do this, one of the more complicated roles of the piece. Rosalie must be frank and bitter, yet also vulnerable and kind. Mulligan has proven herself able to shade her characters with great complexity, even in work as dismissable as Marple: The Sittaford Mystery. Besides, like Rosalie, Mulligan is "more than quite."
Who is She: A failed romance novelist. She thinks no one reads her books because they can not handle the sex. In reality, she is a rather awful writer, whose obsession with success and dependency on alcohol ruin the relationship between her and her daughter. At first, she seems like one of those hilarious drunks brought in for comic relief, but as the film progresses, she becomes more pitiable.
Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Gaslight, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Manchurian Candidate), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Death on the Nile), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Manchurian Candidate)
Angela Lansbury (The Harvey Girls, Beauty and the Beast)
My Choice: Academy Award/SAG Award Winner for Best Actress (Dead Man Walking), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actress (The Client), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress in a Drama (White Palace, Thelma & Louise, Lorenzo's Oil, Dead Man Walking, Stepmom), Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (Bull Durham) and Best Supporting Actress (Igby Goes Down), Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (In the Valley of Elah, Speed Racer)
Susan Sarandon (Enchanted, The Lovely Bones)
Who is He: Linnet's American lawyer. A close friend of Linnet's father, Pennington arrives in Egypt by coincidence, and just so happens to have some contracts for Linnet to sign. Unbeknownst to her, the money Pennington is in charge of has been slowly dwindling...
Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Cool Hand Luke), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Cool Hand Luke, Airport)
George Kennedy (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Earthquake)
My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Actor (Kramer vs. Kramer, Rain Man), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actor (John and Mary/Midnight Cowboy, Tootsie), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Drama (Kramer vs. Kramer, Rain Man) and Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Tootsie), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (Wag the Dog) and Best Ensemble (Finding Neverland)
Dustin Hoffman (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Last Chance Harvey)
SIGNOR GUIDO RICHETTI
Who is He: A hot-tempered Italian passenger who keeps to himself.
Giuseppe Cederna (The Family, Nine)
Who is She: A young relative of Miss Van Schuyler's who is leaving New York for the first time in her life. Cornelia is open to new experiences and believes that there is good in everyone. Sometimes, her politeness leads to uncomfortable situations, like when she sits quietly ask a drunken Jackie tells her the tale of Simon and Linnet's betrayal. Cornelia is fascinated by archaeology, something she shares with Dr. Bessner.
Kelli Garner (Dreamland, Taking Woodstock)
MARIE VAN SCHUYLER
Who is She: A wealthy bitch. Van Schuyler is vicious, a liar, a snob. She values her mink stole, loves pearls, and treats everyone like her servants. A reptilian woman who no one likes; she hates them right back.
Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Dangerous, Jezebel), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Foreign Actress (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress in a Drama (All About Eve, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) and Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (Pocketful of Miracles)
Bette Davis (Now, Voyager, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte)
My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Terms of Endearment), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Foreign Actress (Ask Any Girl, The Apartment), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress in a Drama (Terms of Endearment, Madame Sousatzka) and Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (The Apartment, Irma La Douce)
Shirley MacLaine (Being There, In Her Shoes)
Oh, how much fun could she have in this role?
COLONEL JOHNNY RACE
Who is He: Secret Service agent and friend of Poirot. Race is on board hunting down a terrorist, but when murder joins the passenger list, he's more than willing to play Watson.
Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actor (Separate Tables), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best British Actor (Carrington V.C.), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Drama (Separate Tables) and Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (The Moon is Blue)
David Niven (The Pink Panther, Casino Royale)
My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (Tom Jones, Murder on the Orient Express, The Dresser, Under the Volcano) and Best Supporting Actor (Erin Brockovich), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best British Actor (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Tom Jones), Best Actor (Gumshoe, Murder on the Orient Express, Shoot the Moon, The Dresser) and Best Supporting Actor (Erin Brockovich, Big Fish), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Scrooge), SAG Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Erin Brockovich) and Best Ensemble (Traffic)
Albert Finney (Corpse Bride, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead)
Yes, yes, he's already been a Poirot. But he looks like a "colonel". It was either him or James Fox, and James Fox played this role in the TV movie, so it couldn't be him.
Who is He: The great Belgian detective, he just wanted a relaxing vacation down the river Nile. Instead, he gets a murder to solve.
Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Topkapi, Spartacus), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Death on the Nile) and Best British Screenplay (Billy Budd), DGA Award Nominee for Best Director (Romanoff and Juliet, Billy Budd), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Quo Vadis), WGA Award Nominee for Best American Comedy (Hot Millions) and Best Written American Drama (Billy Budd)
Peter Ustinov (The Great Muppet Caper, Appointment with Death)
My Choice: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone)
Robbie Coltrane (The World is Not Enough, The Brothers Bloom)
Superb with accents, whether they be Russian or, appropriately enough, Belgian. A fine actor, whose rotundity works for Poirot. He may be tall, but so was Poirot. It's not about the height, it's about whether or not he fits the role. And he can do this.