Death on the Nile: ‘It was all so glamorous and extraordinary!’

Poirot is back! French and Saunders fill us in on what it was like to be part of this stylish Hollywood production...

death on the nile

by Alison James |

Based on Agatha Christie's novel, Death on the Nile, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is a follow-up to 2017 film, Murder on the Orient Express. If you haven't seen the (very glamorous) trailer yet, the film is about Detective Hercule Poirot as he investigates the murder of a young heiress aboard a cruise ship on the Nile River.

Iconic comedy double act and best friends Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders literally had to pinch themselves when in mid 2019, a call from Sir Branagh himself came through.

He was casting his multi-million-dollar movie production of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile and wanted two actresses to fill the roles of wealthy kleptomaniac Marie Van Schuyler and her nurse Miss Bowers, played in the 1978 film version by the legendary Bette Davis and Dame Maggie Smith, respectively.

dame Maggie smith and bette Davis

“And. . . he wanted me for the Bette role and Dawn for the Maggie one!” Jennifer says. “We couldn’t believe it! Throughout our career, we had always fantasised about a big Hollywood producer coming along to see us on tour and demanding we appear in their next film and then it actually happened! It was so exciting! It’s a huge production.”

The duo had a few doubts about taking on the roles to begin with.

“We were worried – on Ken’s behalf – that by having the two of us, it would suddenly seem like a comedy parody,” Dawn explains. “But he was completely insistent we could do it. Normally we’re going to take the mick in something like this. But what with Ken acting, directing, producing and also having a hand in writing the film, we didn’t want to let him down. He’s quite strict, so you really have to raise your game, to know all your lines, to have thought through every move and every action.”

Dawn says another big attraction for her and Jennifer to do the film was the chance to spend time together.

“That and the fact we weren’t writing our parts ourselves and doing all the hard homework part of it we normally do when we are working together. So, we could just enjoy the process and be together. In between our filming parts, we’d just watch the whole machinery of the movie, sitting back like the two old ladies we are, oohing and aahing over the slickness and the hugeness of a big Hollywood studio production. We filmed it in September 2019 before the awfulness of Covid-19 hit, so there was lots of hugging, no masks or visors, and we just had a gorgeous time.”

French and Saunders

Nerves got the better of Dawn and Jen to begin with. But Branagh had a particularly charming way of dealing with this.

“He’d say, ‘Nancy Nervous isn’t welcome here but Catherine Calm is welcome anytime you like – Patsy Practice, too.’” Dawn smiles. “Ken was just fantastic to work with. Great fun but also like the nicest headmaster you can ever imagine.”

“He was very precise,” Jennifer explains. “He knows exactly what he wants and is very good at getting it. He likes his characters to speak quietly in that natural, intimate film way. As Hercule Poirot, sometimes he spoke so quietly I couldn’t hear him – especially as I’m going a bit deaf, too! When it came for me to say my lines, he’d say, “Take everything down, down, down – less, less, less.”I kept wondering if anyone could hear me!’

Both Dawn (64) and Jennifer (63) had an absolute ball during filming.

“There was nothing that wasn’t absolutely thrilling about it,” reveals Jennifer.” Meeting Hollywood stars like Annette Bening and seeing how lovely and normal they are...’

“Oh Annette Bening...” Dawn interjects. “She’s so clever and funny and gorgeous and well-informed. If I had a little box into which I could I put in ten favourite people, she’d definitely be one of them.”

“Dawn and I would be running around the beautiful purpose-built cruise ship like excited children, going, ‘Look at this! Have you seen that? Have you been in Cabin 10? It’s amazing’” says Jennifer. “Everyone was doing it. It was all so glamorous and extraordinary.”

Death on the Nile trailer

And by the looks of the trailer, exactly the same can be said of the film!

Death on the Nile cast

A star-studded cast is in the line up for this rendition of Death on the Nile, including:

Gal Gadot, best known for Wonder Woman, who plays the main heroine turned victim, Linnet Ridgeway Doyle.

Kenneth Branagh is also going to be taking on the role of Hercule Poirot. Branagh is a popular Shakespearean actor, playing the titular roles of Hamlet, Macbeth, and Henry V throughout his career. Kenneth previously took up the role of Poirot for Murder on the Orient Express, and we don't doubt he'll give us another brilliant performance this time around.

Other cast members include Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Letitia Wrigh, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, and of course Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French.

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