I do not think it serves any purpose to put down how many ways Kenneth Branagh’s A Haunting in Venice differs from Agatha Christie’s 1969 whodunit, Hallowe’en Party, which it is loosely based on. Seven ways from Sunday would hardly begin to enumerate the departures from the source text.
A Haunting in Venice
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kyle Allen, Kenneth Branagh, Camille Cottin, Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey, Jude Hill, Ali Khan, Emma Laird, Kelly Reilly, Riccardo Scamarcio, Michelle Yeoh
Story line: The famous Belgian detective comes out of retirement to investigate a death at a séance
Run time: 103 minutes
Kenneth Branagh’s third outing as Hercule Poirot following Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and Death on the Nile (2022), sees the Belgian sleuth in retirement in post World War II Venice preferring “cake to cases” in the words of his good friend, the mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey).
Ariadne coaxes Poirot to attend a Halloween party at the spooky palazzo of a retired opera singer, Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly). The palazzo has a bleak history; it was an orphanage and the children were deserted by their caretakers during a plague outbreak. The restless souls of the abandoned children are supposed to haunt the palazzo.
Rowena is grieving her daughter, Alicia (Rowan Robinson) who drowned, probably driven to suicide by the spirits. A medium, Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) is invited to conduct a séance to establish contact with Alicia. Also at the party are a doctor, Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan) and his preternaturally intelligent son, Leopold (Jude Hill). Ferrier is suffering from PTSD having failed to save the survivors of Bergen-Belsen. There is also the au pair, Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin), who feels responsible for Alicia’s death and Alicia’s former fiancé, Maxime Gerard (Kyle Allen).
The séance goes terribly wrong, or right and there is a body. A violent storm ensures no one can enter or leave the palazzo, setting the stage for a classic locked door mystery. Everyone is a suspect, all of who have something to hide including former policeman and now Poirot’s bodyguard, Vitale Portfoglio (Riccardo Scamarcio) and the siblings who dream of going to St Louis, Nicholas (Ali Khan) and Desdemona (Emma Laird).
By focusing on a mystery this time around instead of heaping on back-stories and annoying tics, A Haunting in Venice at least delivers on its brand promise. The cinematography by Branagh regular, Haris Zambarloukos, is arresting. All those skewed perspectives and off-kilter framing reveal Poirot’s unsettled state of mind and smartly has a bearing on the solution.
A Haunting in Venice wears its decadent luxuriousness proudly on its sleeve with the warm lamps throwing sinister shadows that contribute to a glowing gloom as Poirot reveals the dark secrets hidden in normal hearts. The clothes are lovely as are the sets and that clock with the Garden of Eden theme is the cherry on the mysterious cake — bellissimo!
A Haunting in Venice is currently running in theatres