A HAUNTING IN VENICE, UK, 2023. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Tina Fey, Michelle Yeoh, Kelly Reilly, Jamie Dornan, Jude Hill, Kyle Allen, Ricardo Scamarcio, Camille Cottin, Emma Laird, Ali Khan, Rowan Robinson. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. 106 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and suicide references).
Everyone, well, almost everyone, enjoys an Agatha Christie story, especially a Poirot mystery. Poirot has been played on the big screen by Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov and now, for the third time, by Kenneth Branagh.
Branagh, along with the screenwriter of his other Poirot films, Mike Green, have been wise to choose a rather little-known 1969 book by Agatha Christie, Hallowe’en Party. There are no comparisons with previous versions as they were with Branagh’s Orient Express and Death on the Nile, although there was the television version with David Suchet. However, the team has transferred the plot from England to Venice, 1947. Poirot though in retirement is hounded by many Venetians to solve their cases, but he is reluctant.
Christie fans will remember Ariadne Oliver, Poirot’s novelist friend who, here, claims that by writing about him she promoted his career. And, in the often-sardonic form of Tina Fey, there is some ironic dialogue. In fact, Oliver is in Venice for a new book plot but also to urge Poirot into action again, taunting and challenging him, providing him with the situation, at Halloween, to participate in a seance, to raise the spirit of a young woman who has committed suicide by diving into a canal. The young woman was daughter of a once famous opera singer.
So, lots of Venetian atmosphere, wonderful vistas of the city, gondolas on the canal, children gathering at an old Palazzo to celebrate Halloween. But, of course, Poirot is not only sceptical but has some speeches about having lost any belief in the soul and, therefore, in God. But, he is in for a few jolts.
Most of the action takes place overnight. There is the arrival of the medium Mrs Reynolds (Yeoh), who is welcomed by the singer Rowena Drake (Reilly), Leslie Ferrier (Dornan), a doctor suffering from World War II PTSD, and his ultra-precocious, Poe-reading son, Leopold (Hill). [Both of them were striking in Branagh’s autobiographical film, Belfast.] And there are more suspects when there are more murders – the former fiance of the dead girl whom the mother loathes and who seems to be a fortune hunter, the medium’s two assistants, war refugees who kept seeing only half of Meet Me in Saint Louis in the refugee camps, and have a desire to migrate to Missouri, Olga, former nun, carer for the dead girl, and there is also the former policeman, now Poirot’s bodyguard, played by Ricardo Scarmacio.
So, some weird seance sequences – and exposes. Some ghostly appearances. Even an attempt on Poirot’s life. Then, the interrogations, the issue of time and clocks, truth and lies. Of course, there are several twists with the murderer unmasked. But, just when we assume that everything had been solved, there is quite another twist in the final minutes.
Not the greatest – but an easy Christie-Poirot mystery entertainment.
Released 14 September