Inspirations – Mystery and Travel: Death on the Nile novel (1937) and movie (1978)

This post is part of the Little Bits of Classics & Christina Wehner Agatha Christie Blogathon which celebrates the 126th anniversary of the birth of Agatha Christie. With 85 novels written and between 2 billion – 4 billion copies sold, Agatha Christie was one of the most successful and prolific writers of the twentieth century.

If you haven’t discovered Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile is a great book to start with.

AgathaChristie

Death on the Nile takes place in the setting Agatha Christie knew best – a world of high society which dined in the finest restaurants and vacationed abroad. The author had spent much time in the Middle East in the 1930s accompanying her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, on digs, and had holidayed in Egypt, giving authenticity to the novel’s descriptions of grand hotels, luxury steamers, moonlit riverbanks and ruined temples.

The novel begins in England, where beautiful American heiress Linnet Ridgeway has purchased a country home. Linnet’s penniless friend Jacqui de Bellefort visits, asking if Linnet can give Jacqui’s fiance a job on her estate.

When Hercule Poirot enters the story, he is not acting as a detective, but enjoying a meal in London. He observes the devoted Jacqui and Simon at a nearby table, just before they visit Linnet.

To the surprise of the social set, it’s Linnet who weds Simon a few months later. The beginnings of the murder mystery are set in motion.

Arriving in Egypt for a cruise, Hercule Poirot finds himself at the same hotel as the honeymoon couple. Strangely Jacqui is also there. Heartbroken by Simon’s desertion, Jacqui has decided to follow Linnet and Simon, casting a shadow on their happiness.

What happens next? There’s a cruise down the Nile, a close shave in an ancient temple, moody sunsets, embezzling lawyers, an international agitator on the run, an eccentric authoress of saucy romances, high society jewel thieves and no less than three murders.

Hercule Poirot at last discovers the unlikely murderer. Death on the Nile is a whodunit, but it’s also a love story, a tragedy and a reflection on wealth, power and envy – Agatha Christie at her best, transcending her genre.

Movie Poster for the 1978 Universal Studios film of Death on the Nile

Movie Poster for the 1978 Universal Studios film of Death on the Nile

The 1977 movie of Death on the Nile is a treat. Lois Chiles and Simon MacCorkindale are a stunningly beautiful Linnet and Simon. Mia Farrow broods as Jacqui. Peter Ustinov is an impressive Hercule Poirot, and the supporting cast (of potential suspects) includes Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, David Niven, Jane Birken and Olivia Hussey. There are some subtle changes from the book, with the omission of some characters and the combining of motivations, but these won’t affect your enjoyment of the film or the book.

A tense but stylish moment in the 1978 movie

A tense but stylish moment in the 1978 movie

Some other fun facts about the film:

  • The scenes were filmed on location in Egypt and at Pinewood Studios.
  • The haunting music was written by Nino Rota, a composer who had worked with the directors Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Franco Zeffirelli, and wrote the score for Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather films.
  • The tango scene in the luxury hotel was choreographed by Wayne Sleep.
  • The costume supervisor was Rosemary Burrows, who later worked on A Passage to India, Master and Commander and Harry Potter.
  • The costume maker was Germinal Rangel, who made the costumes in Sofia Coppola’s sumptuous Marie Antoinette.
  • Look out for Lois Chiles’ silver evening dress and her glittering shawl. You will covet Mia Farrow’s divinely slinky gowns and very glamorous daywear. And Simon MacCorkindale’s dressing gown is incredibly stylish!

“Most of the great love stories are tragedies,” muses Hercule Poirot on the last page of the novel. It could be said all of Agatha Christie’s great works are much more than whodunits.