A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley


DEATH ON THE NILE” Rated PG-13 One of the most prolific and revered authors of detective novels, Agatha Christie was inspired during the First World War to create Hercule Poirot based on the notion that a Belgian refugee who had been a policeman would make a great detective. Hercule Poirot turned into a legendary character and realized his best on-screen incarnation in Sidney Lumet’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” a visually stunning 1974 production with an all-star cast.

Kenneth Branagh revives “Death on the Nile,” first in the cinemas more than 40 years ago, with an old-fashioned sensibility in its gorgeous design and cinematography, as well as the sense fitting neatly as a 1937 period piece. Opening with a somewhat unnecessary prologue during the Great War, Belgian soldier Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) demonstrates valor and courage during trench warfare, surviving battle wounds that explain the origin of his bushy mustache.

Twenty-odd years later, the Belgian sleuth ends up on an Egyptian vacation aboard a glamorous riverboat steamer with a group of more or less aristocratic people connected in various ways to a picture-perfect couple on an idyllic honeymoon voyage.The newlyweds are fabulously rich heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and her handsome husband Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), a person who might be credibly considered an opportunist since he was engaged to another when they first met.

Enter Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), the jilted lover who was Linnet’s best friend and now has turned into a vengeful stalker who finagles her way aboard the S.S. Karnak riverboat heading down the Nile.From an earlier encounter at a London night club, Poirot was already familiar with the parties to the romantic triangle, having observed that Jacqueline introduced Simon as her fiancé to Linnet.One of the guests on the cruise is Poirot’s old friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), whose irritable mother (Annette Bening) is along for the ride to paint the ancient pyramids of Giza.

Other passengers associated with Linnet include former fiancé and physician Windlesham (Russell Brand), a jealous maid (Rose Leslie), and radical godmother Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders).Rousing suspicion is Linnet’s business manager and cousin (Ali Fazal), but blues band performers (Sophie Okonedo and Letitia Wright) bring a different tune to the journey.

After the first murder, Poirot jumps into the fray, annoying most of the travelers with his relentless queries and deductive reasoning, even as the body count mounts and no one feels safe.With wicked twists and turns that may leave many guessing the final denouement, “Death on the Nile” is beautifully staged as an entertaining diversion for those who appreciate a conventional, old-school murder mystery-thriller.


FREDERICK DOUGLASS: IN FIVE SPEECHES” ON HBO February is Black History Month, and it is a fitting time on the 23rd of the month for the HBO documentary film “Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches,” a look at the life and work of the orator and civil rights activist in his own words.Inspired by David Blight’s “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” the documentary brings to life the words of our country’s most famous anti-slavery advocate.Escaping from slavery at age 20, Douglass went on to become the most influential Black man in the nineteenth century, and he achieved that position based on the power of his words.

Entirely self-taught, the famed abolitionist was a powerful writer and master orator, crafting speeches that challenged the nation to live up to its founding principles.The HBO documentary offers a new approach to understanding Douglass’ story, guided entirely by his own words about the country’s struggle for Black freedom and equality.

Acclaimed actors draw from five of Douglass’ legendary speeches to represent a different moment in the tumultuous history of 19th century America as well as a different stage of Douglass’ long and celebrated life.Together with his autobiographies, the speeches chart Douglass’ rise from a passionate young agitator to a composed statesman, and ultimately to a disenchanted but still hopeful older man. The first of the five speeches dates to pre-Civil War 1841, “I Have Come to Tell You Something About Slavery,” wherein Douglass recounts before an anti-slavery convention his story of being raised as a slave publicly for the first time.

During the twilight of his life in 1894, Douglass’ speech “Lessons of the Hour,” recreated by actor Jeffrey Wright, exhorted America to eliminate prejudice and look to its founding principles. At the moment, I am in the middle of interesting history book about the remarkable story of how Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass steered America through the moral crisis of the Civil War.With numerous New York Times bestseller history books to his credit, Brian Kilmeade’s “The President and the Freedom Fighter” offers the premise that the two men didn’t always see eye to see, but ultimately were committed to the Constitution that united them in friendship.Further edification on this subject would merit reading the source material for this HBO documentary. After all, David Blight garnered the Pulitzer Prize for History for his efforts.