Yesterday, PJ and I went to Columbus to do a little sales shopping. Mostly, we bought clothes. PJ’s recently gotten back into reading Agatha Christie novels, and at some point while we were shopping he mentioned something about Hercule Poirot and Death on the Nile. This started us off on a quest to find a DVD of it.

Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, my family enjoyed watching the Joan Hickson Miss Marple series and then the David Suchet Hercule Poirot series. So, I was particularly desirous of finding the Suchet version of Death on the Nile, which I had never seen (at least that I can remember). While looking at Barnes and Nobles, we found a multi-disk collection of the episodes for about $100, which seemed like a lot more than we really wanted to pay. But then PJ pointed out that, if we were really going to watch all of the episodes, then it would be worth purchasing. So we did.

So, last night we watched Death on the Nile, which I thought was wonderful. Death takes place mostly on a cruise on the Nile. Simon Doyle and Linnet Ridgeway are celebrating their honeymoon. The couple would be perfectly happy if it weren’t for one little problem: Linnet’s former friend (and until quite recently Simon’s former fiancée) Jackie is hounding them in revenge for Linnet stealing her man. Every where they go, she pops up to torment the new couple. And her taunts and jeers seem to be getting increasingly irrational and potentially violent. Everything comes to a head when a murderer strikes during the cruise.

I had seen the 1978 movie version, which starred Peter Ustinov, Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Mia Farrow, Maggie Smith, and David Niven. Here’s a clip from that adaptation:

This version is rather campy and even comical, but it’s also fun and engaging.

For comparison’s sake, here’s the opening scene of the 2004 version:

As you can tell, this version is a little steamier! There are also some other key differences.

First off, David Suchet‘s Poirot is understated and much more realistic. One can imagine him as a real person. He is the definitive Poirot — vain, fussy, and brilliant. He’s not actually as chubby as Poirot is supposed to be, so they have to pad his costumes.

This version also moves along at a much quicker pace. The novel is rather lengthy–it’s a great read–but this adaptation is only 98 minutes long (compared to the 1978 version, which is 140 minutes long). This means that it leaves a lot out. These cuts are the only real weakness of the television version: unlike the clip from the 1978 movie above, this version doesn’t establish adequate motives for most of the passengers on board the cruise on the Nile. I think one element the 1978 version excels at is the establishing of motives so that the first time viewer (who’s never read the book) has a lot of misinformation to sort through before solving the murder(s).

And finally, as the clip from the 2004 version suggests, it is a little more sexually suggestive than the 1978 version. Not only is Simon Doyle a hunk who we see sleeping with Jackie, but we also get the suggestion that a character is gay.

The rest of the cast is also superb. J.J. Feild is great as Doyle. Emily Blunt is good as his rich new wife, Linnet. And Frances de la Tour is much less over the top as Salome Otterborne than was Angela Lansbury. Similarly, Judy Parfitt is a more subtle in the role of Miss Van Schuyler than Bette Davis was.

While the omission of motives made the television episode less rich, overall I really liked it. I also liked that it uses the same cruise ship that he 1978 version used. I recommend it, and I highly recommend the novel, which is a great read, one of Christie’s best.