Director Kenneth Branagh’s mystery-thriller Death on the Nile is finally leaving port in preparation for its Valentine’s Day weekend release in theaters — with actor Armie Hammer on board.
Disney and 20th Century’s marketing campaign for the feature adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic novel kicked off in earnest Tuesday with a new trailer and poster, both of which feature Hammer. The embattled actor appears opposite a slew of stars in the ensemble event pic, including Branagh, Gal Gadot, Tom Bateman and Letitia Wright.
In other words, Disney isn’t trying to hide Hammer from public view.
It’s been almost a year since multiple women accused Hammer of emotional abuse, manipulation and coercion; in April, a woman who gave her name only as Effie accused Hammer of rape. Hammer denied the allegations but was dropped by his agents at William Morris and withdrew from a number of movie and TV projects, including the Jennifer Lopez movie Shotgun Wedding and the Godfather series at Paramount+.
Death on the Nile had been done for more than a year when the troubling allegations arose, leaving Disney in a tough position. The release of the movie, which was originally set to hit cinemas in 2020, had already been delayed because of COVID-19.
Disney considered several options when the accusations broke regarding Hammer (Call Me by Your Name, The Social Network) including reshooting the movie with a new actor replacing Hammer, according to a source. In 2017, Ridley Scott — one of the producers of Death on the Nile — had reshot All the Money in the World after Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual assault, which he denied. Spacey was replaced by Christopher Plummer.
But that wasn’t feasible for a film of this scale, because of the pandemic and the ensemble cast. Gathering all the actors back together would have been near impossible due to COVID. (Death on the Nile also stars Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo and Jennifer Saunders.)
Another option was to use digital technology to edit or alter the film, but that would have been equally as challenging considering the size of the cast and intricate storyline, according to an insider.
Ultimately, the studio decided to leave the film as is and proceed with a full-fledged theatrical release. To shelve Death on the Nile, or sell it off to a streamer, would have been a disservice to the large cast and crew, a source says. Nor did Disney want to abandon the franchise built by 20th Century in partnership with the Christie estate. In 2017, Murder on the Orient Express, likewise directed by and starring Branagh, was a sleeper hit for 20th Century Fox, grossing nearly $353 million at the worldwide box office. (Disney inherited Death on the Nile and the rights to further films upon the Disney/Fox merger in 2019.)
Death on the Nile, scheduled for release Feb. 11, charts the drama that unfolds when one of the passengers of the luxurious S.S. Karnak is found murdered. The trailer highlights Branagh’s character, the iconic fictional detective Hercule Poirot created by Christie, and Gadot’s character, Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle. Hammer plays Simon Doyle, Linnet’s husband. Poirot and the two glamorous newlyweds are in for more than they bargained for as the trip unfolds. “When you have money, no one is really ever your friend,” Linnet tells Poirot in the trailer. Hammer’s character is seen several times.
Branagh shot Death on the Nile in 2019 with 65mm Panavision cameras. The film, set in the 1930s, re-creates many of the locations that served as inspiration for Christie’s iconic novel of the same name.
“Ken’s sweeping, elegant vision for this classic story deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. We’re so proud of this film, our brilliant cast and the stellar work that went into bringing Death on the Nile to screen,” 20th Century production president Steve Asbell said in a statement announcing the trailer. “We know that audiences can’t wait to experience Hercule Poirot’s next adventure, and we’re thrilled to continue working with Ken as he lends his masterful storytelling vision to the newest film in this celebrated franchise.”
Adds Agatha Christie Ltd. chair-CEO James Prichard, “More than 100 years after the publication of Agatha Christie’s first novel, her crime fiction works remain immensely popular and continue to be discovered anew by people around the world. I’m thrilled that Disney and our partners believe in this franchise, which has helped introduce millions of new fans to Christie’s classic works.”
Watch the new trailer for Death on the Nile below.