A Haunting in Venice
Updated: Oct 21
Branagh's third iteration of Hercule Poirot continues to yield solid results
Kenneth Branagh is quietly one of the most versatile and prolific directors of the last few decades. Starting in Shakespeare and moving into superhero movies with Thor (2011), Disney princesses with Cinderella (2015), personal stories with Belfast (2021), and spawning an unlikely franchise from Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, the latest of these being A Haunting in Venice (2023).
A Haunting in Vence follows the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Baranagh) as he has retired to a post-WWII Venice. Still sporting his luscious moustache, Poirot is intrigued back into the game by mystery author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) who invites him to come and attempt to dispel the mystery of a séance. However, at the crumbling palazzo where the séance is being held, Poirot stumbles into a challenging mystery he is unable to turn away from.
Branagh once again arraigns a glamorous cast of suspects, from the aforementioned Fey to a PTSD stricken doctor (Jamie Dornan), his erudite son (Jude Hill), the madam of the palazzo (Kelly Reilly), and the psychic (Michelle Yeoh). Branagh is able to manage this smaller cast with greater aplomb, albeit, just like in his previous Christie adaptations, the characters serve more as plot devices and necessary suspects than fleshed out beings. That said, you still sense the performers having fun, from an against-type Fey to Yeoh and her séance. It was also encouraging to see Hill again, reteaming with Branagh and Dornan after his debut role in Belfast. Branagh, as in his previous adaptations, has an incredible grasp and relish for the character of Poirot to a point that is contagious and magnetic to viewers.
A Haunting in Venice approached the horror genre closer than any of Branagh’s previous adaptations. However, it is in this uneasy settling that the film falters most. Branagh, not as accustomed to horror, struggles to truly deliver a sense of dread or foreboding, instead relying on cheap and unearned jump scares that seek to pad the runtime more than inform the story.
The adaptation freedoms taken from Christie’s novel (which took place in the UK instead of Venice) are welcome and add a visual flair and gothic quality to the surrounding mystery. Branagh and his production design crew rollick around their setting, with the cinematography especially embracing Dutch angles and other inventive movements to keep the claustrophobic setting of the palazzo feeling fresh.
The mystery itself delivers, as with all of Christie’s usual work, but the adaptation does well to add panache and relish to the affair. Branagh continues to bring an unlikely, but incredibly welcome Christie film series to life, and one only hopes he can continue doing so, despite the film’s underwhelming numbers at the box office.