Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles) returns to the English country mansion she owns after some time away, and is not only greeted by her staff but her sister Jackie (Mia Farrow) as well. She is delighted to see Linnet, fairly bouncing up and down with excitement, but that is because she has news for her - and a proposition. She has a new boyfriend she has high hopes for, and suggests very firmly that he could find a job working there, under her sister's employ and although the reaction she gets to this is more muted than she would have wanted, nevertheless Simon (Simon MacCorkindale) is introduced - but Linnet wins him away from Jackie.
There will be repercussions to that, make no mistake, and they inform the plot of this Agatha Christie adaptation which was put into production after the international success of Murder on the Orient Express a few years before; like that film it put a starry cast to work on what would, in future years, become a staple of Sunday night television. But we were not blessed with the presence of David Suchet and his leetle moustache here, no, and neither did a reluctant Albert Finney reprise his role from before, as Peter Ustinov stepped into the shoes of Belgium's most celebrated fictional detective, Hercule Poirot.
Ustinov was a more obvious choice than Finney, and took to the part like a duck to water complete with one of his accents, wading through the celebrity suspects with a particularly single-minded though slightly spoofy aplomb. But how do we get to the Nile of the title? It is Linnet and Simon's honeymoon, but they are not alone on this paddle steamer cruise down Africa's most famous river, as you could throw a stick anywhere on this outing and hit a famous face (not that they'd thank you for that kind of behaviour). However, Jackie is following on to ruin their happiness, apparently possessed with jealousy and admitting to Poirot that if she cannot find true love, she will embrace evil instead.
The victim, or should I say the first victim, the one whose death starts off the whole tragic chain of events, is well telegraphed, what with a bunch of seemingly offhand remarks made around her to make it seem as if everyone on the steamer is a potential suspect, but really not only is it no surprise who she is, and no surprise who the killer is either. Maybe Christie's plotting has become so familiar these days that it feels like a cliché, which is a tribute of sorts to the impact she made in the field of crime fiction, so the fact that most viewers will be ahead of Poirot is beside the point. It's the satisfaction to be garnered from seeing him allow the criminals get their comeuppance that is the strongest element.
That said, this is still pretty stodgy stuff, relying on package holiday views of Egypt, visiting the pyramids and Abu Simbel for local colour when the actual crime has nothing to do with them whatsoever. True, there's a murder attempt of sorts at one of the lines of columns when Linnet and Simon are nearly squashed by toppling masonry, but this is a mere distraction. For star spotters, however, seeing them interacting in the confines of the ship is worthwhile enough, and Bette Davis trading barbs with Maggie Smith, or Angela Lansbury going way over the top as the thirties equivalent of Jackie Collins undeniably amusing. But it all goes on for an awful long time, especially if you've worked out the mystery or you've seen it before, so that those performances become something to cling onto as yet another reconstruction is played out onscreen. Music by Nino Rota.