Simon MacCorkindale as Simon Doyle, newlywed honeymooner
Egypt, September 1937
Film: Death on the Nile
Release Date: September 29, 1978
Director: John Guillermin
Costume Designer: Anthony Powell
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
As my wife and I are basking in the sun during our Jamaican honeymoon this week, I wanted to focus on another cinematic honeymoon… though I hope I’m not dooming us by pulling an example from Agatha Christie’s poison pen. Based on her 1937 novel of the same name, the 1978 adaptation of Death on the Nile was the first of six films to star Peter Ustinov as Christie’s eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, here pulled into a dangerous love triangle.
Simon Doyle (Simon MacCorkindale) was a simple young Englishman, relatively devoid of funds and creativity, but charming enough to attract the fiery Jacqueline de Bellefort (Mia Farrow). The seemingly happy couple’s engagement doesn’t last long after Simon meets Jackie’s dazzlingly wealthy and glamorous friend, Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles), and it’s she whom Simon marries instead. The Doyles spend their honeymoon touring Egypt and exploring the pyramids, “some of the most recognizable—not to mention pointiest—buildings in history,” according to the great Philomena Cunk.
Unfortunately, their marital bliss is frequently interrupted by Jackie, hell-bent on harassing the new Mr. and Mrs. Doyle for stealing the life that should have been hers. Linnet’s troubles will soon be compounded upon boarding the Nile steamer where seemingly every other passenger has a grudge against her, but it’s the pistol-packin’ Jackie who harbors the most personal grievance… one which Hercule Poirot is all too eager to prevent from turning deadly.
What’d He Wear?
Simon Doyle’s costume for a horseback trek through the pyramids is about as uncomplicated as the man himself, consisting of a nearly matching off-white shirt and breeches, held up with a sash and worn with the requisite riding boots.
The setting of Death on the Nile is only a few years advanced from René Lacoste standardizing the pullover shirts with collars and short plackets known alternately today as polo shirts, golf shirts, and—in the spirit of Mr. Lacoste’s profession—tennis shirts. However, these shirts quickly grew popular through the ’30s, particularly among the leisure class who could afford a casual wardrobe for every season and were already familiar with the easy comfort afforded by these shirts due to their sporting pursuits. That said, decorum would have still restricted their regular wear to only the most casual situations, with an activity like horseback riding through the Egyptian desert certainly qualifying.
Simon wears a light cream knitted polo shirt with a soft collar, ribbed short-sleeve ends, and a three-button placket that he wears totally open.
Simon tucks the shirt into a pair of cream-colored riding breeches, as evident by not just the context but also fullness through the thighs. Rather than on-seam side pockets, these trousers have front pockets positioned just below the belt-line, gently slanting out toward the side seams. Pockets styled and positioned like this allow the contents to stay in place while the wearer is seated, such as on horseback.
Through the trouser belt loops, Simon uniquely wears a long dark brown sash, patterned with a tan motif, similar to the sashes that Fred Astaire often worn in lieu of belts while dancing. There may have been some functional reason, perhaps to avoid introducing hard leather or metal that could hurt the horse or its rider (though this defies the oversized belt buckles famously worn by rodeo champions), or this may have simply been chosen to add a dash of rakishness to Simon’s otherwise uncomplicated attire.
Both Simon and Linnet wear black cowhide leather riding boots with the traditional calf-high shafts, so designed to protect the wearer’s legs.
Simon wears a gold tonneau wristwatch on a tan leather strap around his left wrist. Characterized by its convex-rounded sides, tonneau watches were popular through this era among men and women as an elegant alternative to the function-driven designs of tank watches and hefty converted pocket watches.
How to Get the Look
Simple apparel for simple Simon, dressed in all white to beat the heat with the requisite riding boots and the rakishly unique touch of a cloth sash around his waist rather than a belt. Sometimes it’s just a matter of adding those subdued, tasteful, and distinctive decisions to make an uncomplicated outfit more interesting.
- Cream knit short-sleeved 3-button polo shirt
- Cream flat front riding breeches with belt loops and slanted front pockets
- Dark brown patterned sash, worn like a belt
- Black leather calf-high riding boots
- Gold tonneau-cased watch on tan leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Death on the Nile has been adapted at least twice more since 1978. Of these two, I still have yet to see Kenneth Branagh’s recently released adaptation, though I can recommend the version produced in 2004 as a ninth-season episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, starring David Suchet as Poirot, Emily Blunt(!) as Linnet, and JJ Feild as Simon.
While casting Lois Chiles and Mia Farrow as frenemies may be a nod to their earlier portrayals of flapper pals Jordan Baker and Daisy Buchanan in the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby (also set during the interwar era, of course), an unexpected reference to Chiles’ career would also become prescient when Simon mentions that Jackie had also followed them to the famous Hotel Danieli in Venice, the very hotel where Chiles’ character Dr. Holly Goodhead would be a guest in Moonraker, the James Bond film released just one year later.