A Haunting in Venice


‘…dispensing with the franchise-friendly side of the detective, Branagh connects with the spirit of the text, brisk, witty, clever and straight to the point…’

It’s a rare thing for the third film in a franchise to be the best of the lot, but Kenneth Branagh’s reworking of one of Agatha Christie’s lesser known texts proves to be the charm. Halloween Party was published late in Christie’s career, and required quite a lot of adaptation to make it worthy of a film version. For Branagh, whose incarnation of Hercules Poirot has trodden a well-trodden sub-Ustinov path with the lavish yet workmanlike Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, it’s a welcome trip into uncharted territory, with half the budget, a less spectacular cast, less CGI trickery, unknown twists and a welcome emphasis on yer actual detective work and mystery, much as it should have been from the start of the Branagh Poirotverse.

A little more tetchy and a lot more focused, an aging Poirot finds himself in Venice at Halloween, where the masks conceal blackmail, treachery and a number of murders from the midnight hour onwards. He’s been invited by writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) to attend the séance for a dead girl, the daughter of Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly) who welcomes a successful medium (Michelle Yeoh) to her decaying waterfront mansion. All is not as it seems, as you’d expect; the séance ends in murder, and Poirot promptly closes the house gates and interrogates the suspects one by one until the culprit is revealed.

Aftrer some time in the doldrums, Branagh somehow reconnected with his film-making mojo with the personal story of Belfast, and carries across a few key cast members here, including Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill. A Haunting in Venice feels scaled down from the travelogue epics previously featured, with the action almost entirely focused on one single claustrophobic location. There are supernatural trappings, since most of the characters have reasons to believe in ghosts, but this Poirot is admirably clear-eyed and barely wastes a second before demonstrating his fierce antagonism to those who choose to believe in the spirit world.

Some late plot twists allow Branagh to have his cake and eat it when it comes to Poirot’s scepticism, but not before he establishes a dank, fetid atmosphere of doom and decay that recalls Don’t Look Now and the darkly ornate feel of Venice itself. But while Branagh’s Poirot feels right for the first time, his handling of the other cast members works too, with Camille Cottin and Reilly projecting the right kind of mystery, and Fey more than earning her keep as a comic sidekick with some secrets of her own; it’s fun to hear Oliver cheerfully slam Poirot’s use of complex metaphors, or address him as ‘Her-cul-es.’

Where now for Poirot? After two rather lumpy, star-packed but rather languid outings, A Haunting of Venice suggests that Branagh his finally got the super-sleuthing routine down pat; more movies, a tv show, anything could follow but for once, further adventures would be welcome. Dispensing with the franchise-friendly side of the detective, Branagh connects with the spirit of the text, brisk, witty, clever and straight to the point. Time seems to have caught up with Poirot, who seems considerably more worldly and weary that the detective who swung from railway bridges in the first film, and that grounded lack of exuberance somehow works wonders for the character. A Haunting in Venice finally brings the world of Christie to life; for Branagh, it’s a mystery finally solved at the third attempt.

A Haunting in Venice is only in theaters, UK, US and worldwide from September 15. Thanks to 20th Century Studios for big screen access to this title.


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    • None of them are awful, and I get why Branagh would start with the best known two. But ideally he’d have started with Venice, because he only really puts his stamp on the detective in this one. Better late than never.

  1. Fantastic, ‘darkly delightful’ review. Always been a Christie and Poirot fan, not to mention admirer of fan-tastical critiques that nail salient points and seduce…

    • I guess people have different expectations of a Poirot movie, but I like it when he’s just a brilliant detective and not a superhero. We don’t need an all star cast or a moving location, and somehow my reducing the formula, the result it much more satisfying. Some won’t like the supernatural elements, but it worked for me. Hope you enjoy when you see it!

  2. Interesting. I’d sort of given up on Branagh’s Poirot after the first two entries and I’d read some really negative reviews of this. But sounds like it might be worth catching.

    Ariadne Oliver, Jamie Dornan.

    • Thanks for the typos. The first two felt like remakes of previous films, which is what they were. This feels much more original and more in tune with a proper detective story. No Russell Brand is a bonus.

      • Can’t believe what a puke Brand turned into. What is it about Internetz popularity that transforms people in such a way? I guess it’s all dancing to the algorithm.

        • Brand was a primo tosspot from day one, he was just marketed as something else until his true colours came through.

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