Spoilers ahoy, me hearty. Who dies? Who killed them? Who probably wanted to kill them but didn’t? The beginning, the ending, the suspects, and… what’s love got to do with it? Scroll down now. (If you’re after my review, it’s here)
As a young man in 1914, Poirot, a farmer, is in the trenches, fighting in World War One. His captain is delivered his orders for their next move: to attack the bridge in three hours when the wind turns east, using their gas canisters to hide themselves. Many, probably all of the company, will die. Poirot suggests they attack immediately, using the gas as a cover, as his study of local bird flight shows the wind is turning east right now.
They do as he suggests and ambush their opponents at the bridge. Tragically, the captain then steps on a mine and is killed in the explosion; Poirot is injured, ending up in hospital with a large wound on his face. His fiancée Katherine, who is also a nurse, suggests he grows a moustache to cover it. The large twirly moustache, and tiny patch of beard on his chin (no idea what that bit is called, sorry facial hair experts) are the same style as his captain had. So for Poirot not only do they cover up his scars but they pay tribute to the man who died.
It is 23 years later, 1937. And the murderer is… ARE. The murderers are: Simon Doyle and Jaqueline de Bellefort. The two of them cooked up a plan for Linnet to fall in love with Simon, “stealing” him from Jackie (though Jackie was really the brains behind the plot). After the wedding Linnet would be killed and Simon would inherit. Then he and Jackie would get back together and live happily ever after. Simon even ensured the wedding guests bore grudges against Linnet to deflect attention from him.
Like all Hercule Poirot denouements, he rounds up the still-living suspects before relating his findings. This time he locks everyone still alive in the ship’s bar, holding them with Andrew’s gun, which had been used to kill Bouc. Simon wants the two of them to flee, but Jackie hugs him, taking his gun from him and shooting him through the back. The bullet enters her chest and she dies too.
Six months later Poirot revisits the same music venue in London where he originally encountered several of the wedding party the night Linnet met Simon for the first time. Now he’s here to listen to singer Salome Otterbourne, the woman he was becoming close to on the Nile trip.
It’s one of the themes of the film, what people will do for love (the good, the bad and the ugly) but also how love is achievable for all of us. While seeing beautiful young couples might make Poirot yearn for what he could have had, seeing Bowers and Marie in love, and meeting Salome, all of whom are middle-aged, reminds him it is not too late for him even now. When Poirot visits Salome at the very end, she is rehearsing, and he sits in the dark listening to her. He has shaved off his moustache, his wartime scar now visible. Having removed his “armour” Poirot is also showing that he may finally be able to fall in love again.
It’s very different from the incredible self-belief Poirot has been known for, that has driven him to great glories in his work but has also stopped him finding a partner with whom to share that success. At the start of the film, when a soldier criticises his plan for attacking that bridge, the young Poirot is steadfast: “I am not wrong”. But as the film progresses and he sees the relationships, hidden and public, between friends and lovers, he starts to wonder if he has been wrong denying himself love. We see the pain of loss in him when he leaves a long, long pause while talking about the murder of his friend Bouc doing the denouement; it’s the first crack in the armour, an acknowledgement that this is no longer simply his work but personal.
Poirot has shut himself away from love since the death of his fianceé during WW1; he was still in hospital over Christmas, he asked her to come and meet him. The train she was on was bombed and she was killed.
Now maybe he and Salome have a future together?
The victims (in order)
Linnet Ridgeway Doyle
Shot dead by Simon. She is shot while sleeping on the boat. Simon puts drugs in Poirot’s champagne so he is not around for the drama of the evening. Linnet has gone to bed, taking a sleeping pill; she and Simon are leaving for home the next morning. First Jackie, who has joined the boat, pretends to shoot Simon in the leg with her gun, in front of witnesses Rosalie and Bouc. Simon clasps a supposedly bloody handkerchief to the wound (it is really smeared with red paint) while Rosalie kicks Jackie’s little gun under the sofa to be retrieved later (next morning it is gone). She takes Jackie to Nurse Bowers who sedates her with morphia and stays with her all night. Bouc goes off to look for Dr Windlesham. Simon rushes off to Linnet’s room, and shoots her in the head. Then he rushes back to the salon and shoots himself in the leg, muffling the sound with a scarf stolen from Marie Van Schuyler. He then wraps the handkerchief and scarf around the gun and throws the bundle into the Nile. When Dr Windlesham arrives, Simon is genuinely in agony.
Throat cut by Jackie. Louise is Linnet’s maid, and she’s not treated particularly well: Linnet won’t allow her to eat with the rest of the party, for example. Louise knows who Linnet’s murderer is and obliquely ensures Simon knows this, by suggesting to Poirot if she had come out of her cabin for a cigarette the night Linnet died she might have seen the killer. Simon is sitting next to her at the time (indeed she asked him to stay while Poirot questioned her) and he responds saying he will take care of her. It’s an attempt to blackmail him (there is money found with her body). Simon informs Jackie, who slits Louise’s throat and throws the body overboard, only for it to reappear stuck to the boat’s giant paddle wheel. Poirot realises there’s a witness-shaped space against the wall between the blood spatters where Louise was murdered. That witness is…
Shot by Jackie. He’s rather upset at being questioned at all by his old friend Poirot. He also witnessed Louise’s murder. Simon sits with him throughout his interview with Poirot. The detective asks Bouc where his coat is, then explains his theory: that Bouc stole Linnet’s necklace, then came across Louise and the person she was blackmailing as he tried to get rid of it. He saw Louise murdered, and his coat became spattered with blood. He threw the coat into the Nile, and now keeps quiet about what he saw as he can’t face losing Rosalie if he is sent to prison for the theft. As Bouc is about to tell Poirot the name of Louise’s killer, Simon gives a signal to Jackie (“Come on!”) and she shoots Bouc dead through the railings.
Owned by Linnet, the very valuable jewel is stolen by Bouc from her room after her death. He goes to tell her about Simon being shot, but seeing her dead he takes his chance and pockets it, saying nothing to anyone about Linnet being murdered. He wants the necklace so he can marry Rosalie Otterbourne, who he ardently loves in the face of his mother’s disapproval. Bouc is dependent on his mother for money; with the necklace he and Rosalie can be free to live their lives together. However when the necklace is found to be missing a detailed search begins and Bouc panics. He puts it among his mother’s belongings, knowing no one will really believe she stole it.
Marie Van Schuyler’s scarf goes missing, and is later dredged up from the river — it has bullet holes from when Simon used it to muffle the noise when he actually shot himself in the leg. It’s wrapped around a handkerchief dotted with red paint, which is itself wrapped around Jackie’s little .22 gun.
The red paint
Euphemia Bouc is a painter, and finds her carmine red paint missing. It transpires that Simon has taken it to use as fake blood for when he pretends he’s been shot by Jackie. He had intended to use Linnet’s red nail varnish but Louise left it at the hotel when she went back there to collect everyone’s luggage.
The suspects — and their secrets
Jacqueline de Bellefort is the spurned ex-fianceé of Simon Doyle. She has been best friends with Linnet since their schooldays, and introduces her friend to her lover in a London club. After being ditched by Simon for Linnet she then continues to pop up at important moments, stalking them into Egypt and down the Nile.
Simon Doyle, “the engorged stallion” as Bouc calls him, will inherit a large chunk of Linnet’s fortune on her death — despite only knowing Linnet six weeks before they married.
Andrew Katchadourian (Ali Fazal) is Linnet’s cousin, and has known her since childhood. They are close, with Andrew managing her wealth and estates. He’s also been embezzling money from her, and is terrified she will discover this now she is married. It is Andrew who seizes the moment as the guests explore the temple of Rameses II at Abu Simbel. He pushes a loose rock off the top onto Linnet and Simon below, which just misses them. Andrew also possesses a gun.
Bowers (Dawn French) used to be rich until her family lost their fortune in the great crash, thanks in part to Linnet’s brutal businessman father. Bowers is upset not so much for her own lost money — though she certainly misses the finer things in life she enjoyed before — but for the Bower employees, all 1000 of them, many of whom never worked again. Linnet now owns the old Bowers building, further rubbing salt into the wound.
Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders) is a wealthy communist who has given her fortune away. They let people believe Bowers is a paid companion/nurse to her, though in reality they are in a relationship. Marie is Linnet’s godmother, and stands to inherit part of her fortune though it’s not much of as motive as she claims to despise wealth.
Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) is a very successful singer, managed by her niece Rosalie. Before Salome’s career took off she remembers Linnet subjecting Rosalie to racist abuse at a hotel, complaining loudly to her father that she did not want a Black girl swimming in the hotel pool with her. Salome also owns a gun, kept in her hat. (It’s a pretty ropy motive, as Salome points out to Poirot — if she murdered every person racist towards her she’d be leaving behind a trail of dead white women.)
Louise Bourget (Rose Leslie) was in love and planning to leave Linnet’s employment. Linnet delved into her fiancé’s past and discovered he was in debt, offering him money to clear his debts if he left Louise, which he did.
Dr/Lord Windlesham (Russell Brand) was expecting to marry Linnet until she met and fell for Simon Doyle. He also now follows them around, though with Linnet’s approval, unlike Jackie.
Euphemia (Annette Bening) resents Linnet for introducing Bouc to Rosalie, whom he has now fallen in love with. Euphemia doesn’t like Americans or indeed anyone born outside of Mayfair. (Again this is a weak motive.)
Bouc (Tom Bateman) doesn’t have a long-held grudge against Linnet though Poirot suggests he still might have had read to kill her. Bouc went in to tell Linnet that Simon had been shot, found her asleep and impulsively stole the necklace — Poirot suggests Linnet woke up and Bouc shot her.
Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) may not be a suspect but he has some secrets. He feels guilty over the death of his girlfriend Katherine. And he was at the wedding celebrations deliberately. Initially it looks as if it is pure coincidence that he bumps into his old friend Bouc at the pyramids but actually Bouc’s mother had engaged his services to look into the background of Rosalie Otterbourne. Poirot only discovers good things about Rosalie, but she is furious that he did this.
Rosalie (Letitia Wright) and Poirot are the only ones without any motive to kill Linnet. During the wedding reception, Bouc explains to Poirot that Rosalie is the only one there who actually likes Linnet, though even Rosalie tells Poirot she might have both hated and loved her.