Film Reviews

A Haunting in Venice – Film Review

Six years on from his version of Murder on the Orient Express, and only around eighteen months on from Death on the Nile, Kenneth Branagh returns with his third go-around as legendary detective Hercule Poirot.

Where his first entry felt lavish and his take on the detective imbued with a calm warmth, the second felt very compromised. Never shooting outside of the UK, it was clear that a lot of greenscreen was involved in recreating Egypt, large parts of the plot seemed to be missing, and its pacing was painfully slow, before suddenly speeding up to hurtle towards a conclusion in no time. It was, in short, not a patch on its previous big screen adaptation. One might have blamed it on the COVID-19 pandemic, but filming took place before the virus had even been discovered. A Haunting in Venice is an adaptation of the decidedly not Venice-based Hallowe’en Party, a 1969 Agatha Christie story.

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We say adaptation, but this is only loosely the case. The character of Ariadne Oliver (played here by Tina Fey) is in the book, and plays much as in that story, but Joyce Reynolds is played by 60-something actress Michelle Yeoh attending as a psychic medium, whereas in the book she is a girl of thirteen. The method of an attempt on Poirot’s life mirrors the way Joyce dies in the book, and she meets a different fate here. Some of the characters such as Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin) are in the same roles/jobs but come off very differently. There are also significant differences in both the plot and the motivations of the characters.

The story commences in 1947 (strange choice, given that last year’s film was set in 1937, and his first three years before that – and the book really makes nothing of his age or career status). A visually un-aged Hercule Poirot is living in retirement in Venice, staying largely on the roof of his house and avoiding company as much as possible. A long line of people wait at his door in hopes of getting his expert eye on their cases and issues, but he has little interest.


Visited by his old friend, Ariadne, a crime novelist who based her most famous character on him, Hercule is invited to a Halloween party at a house owned by retired opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly). The house has had a reputation for generations that everyone living it meets a terrible fate. Rowena, herself, lost her daughter the previous year in a fall from her window that was ruled a suicide, but got people talking that it may not have been.

Visiting this party is Joyce Reynold, a medium that works with two young Hungarian assistants. She will hold a seance in the late girl’s bedroom, also attended by her ex-boyfriend Maxime Gerrard (Kyle Allen); the housekeeper, Olga; Dr Leslie Ferrer (Jamie Dornan), who performed the autopsy; his son, Leopold (Jude Hill); retired police detective Vitale Portfoglio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who attended the scene of the death; Rowena; Hercule, and Ariadne.

Through the course of events, it is clear that Ariadne has invited Poirot to see if he can fathom how Joyce is working, and what tricks are involved. After an attempt on his life from an unseen assailant, Joyce is found murdered, and our lead demands all doors to be locked, keeping everyone in the house until he can uncover the killer. At the same time, he begins to get apparitions of a young girl, as well as hear voices. He begins to doubt both his sanity and his previously unshakeable belief in the utter absence of supernatural phenomena. Is the house really cursed? Who killed Joyce, and what really happened to Rowena Drake’s daughter?


It takes well over half an hour for this film to settle back into the formula of suspects stuck at the scene of a crime while our detective makes his enquiries. This is not quite as star-laden as these affairs have always been, though everyone in the film is terrific, and it also plays with style and format in a way that take a little acclimatisation.

In short, Branagh has attempted to give the film horror overtones, with added jump scares (that somehow did not manage to make us jump), and creep visuals. He has gone more Dutch-angle heavy here than in any of his work since Thor. This sensibility is probably the weakest element of the film, as he is decidedly not a horror movie maker. Where he has more success is in the things he is always good at.

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Clearly an actors’ director, he gets terrific performances from everyone, including himself, and even a young boy (not for the first time). Although some of the shooting did take place at Pinewood, there is plenty of location shooting – something that the absence of really hurt in last year’s product – and it pays off, with the film looking more lavish than Nile, and with the lack of dodgy avalanche effects that made Murder look a little ropey, this feels the most lavish of the three, even without quite the surplus of A-listers we have had in the previous entries.

Finally, this is a better paced film than either of its predecessors. It kept us engaged for all of its taut 103-minute running time. Where the last film wasted its first hour – except for the moustache origin story, of course – here, we do slowly peel back the layers building on what we learned of the detective last time, with his love for his deceased fiancée nurse still clearly hurting him. He has pulled back from the human race, and it is only a case that can bring him back, and one that seems to defy logical explanation at that. Comfortably the best of the three Kenneth Branagh Poirot films, this is a fine return to form, and does leave us wanting more.

A Haunting in Venice is out now in cinemas.

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