‘Death on the Nile’: Kenneth Branagh Added a ‘Race Issue’ to the Script That Wasn’t In the Novel

Death on the Nile, from director Kenneth Branagh, featured a race-related plot contrived for the movie. The much-delayed flick based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name garnered attention for its incredible cast. However, it isn’t a direct adaptation of the book. Learn what Branagh added and why he did so.

‘Death on the Nile’ is a much-anticipated Agatha Christie adaptation

Christie’s works focus on famed fictional investigator Hercule Poirot remain popular nearly a century later. Plenty of Christie’s mysterious crime tales earn the big-screen treatment. And the mix of humor and edge-of-your-seat suspense has made the novels a popular source for film adaptations for decades. 

As for recent adaptations, 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express proved a box office success. So director Branagh followed it up with 2022’s Death on the Nile. In both films, Branagh directs and portrays the famed Poirot. 

This recent tale depicts the Belgian sleuth searching for clues in the death of an heiress aboard a luxurious riverboat on the Nile. The signature twists and turns of an Agatha Christie work are present and promise to keep viewers guessing and entertained until the very end. 

A ‘race issue’ was inserted into ‘Death on the Nile’ 

The creative minds behind Death on the Nile had plenty to draw from in Christie’s novel. But the work debuted in 1937. Obviously, times have changed. And even for a film set in the original period, creators need to think of the expectations of modern audiences. 

In an interview with British Cinematographer, Haris Zambarloukos (who did the cinematography for the film) explained what that update looked like: “Together with Micheal [Green]’s script, [Branagh]’s added a race issue which didn’t exist in the book and is a much better story for it. We went away from a more English, tamer version of the story to get under the skin of the human condition.”

Zambarloukos adds that this is not new ground for Branagh, who has made championing racial diversity in unexpected places one of his principles. “His philosophy is ‘this is how I want the world to be, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the one inhabited by the characters defined in the source material,'” Zambarloukos explains. “He did it on Orient (casting Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot), and he’s gone much further on Nile.”

Kenneth Branagh has focused on diversity in casting

Kenneth Branagh directed and starred in 'Death on the Nile'
Kenneth Branagh directed and starred in ‘Death on the Nile’ | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

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As Independent.ie reports, Branagh stays outspoken about the need for diverse casting and the disparity in recognizing diverse talent. In particular, Branagh calls out awards ceremonies lacking in representation. 

His work often puts actors of color in roles that differ from the source material. In 1993, Branagh added Denzel Washington to the cast of Much Ado About Nothing in the role of Don Pedro. Murder on the Orient Express saw Leslie Odom Jr. cast as Dr. Arbuthnot. 

Branagh brings this same eye to his theater work, too. He directed a show featuring the first Black actor in England to play Othello. “It also talks about racial diversity as well. And so I think the connection with Shakespeare in that kind of topic becomes very pertinent and alive and engaging,” he told the Upcoming in 2016.