In the world of Agatha Christie adaptations, there’s always a delicate balance to strike between remaining faithful to the source and modernizing the narrative for contemporary audiences. A Haunting in Venice is Kenneth Branagh’s third venture in this territory and may have finally found his rhythm with these films. In addition to Branagh, the film stars Tina Fey, Michelle Yeoh, Kelly Reilly, Jamie Dornan, Camille Cottin, and others.
In Venice 1947, Hercule Poirot (Branaugh) is retired and no longer a detective, but Adriane (Fey), a mystery novel writer looking for her next hit story, convinces him to accompany her to a seance to find out if the medium chosen for the event is a liar. What they find is that this home is the location of a tragedy. The current owner of the Palazzo, Rowena (Reilly), an opera singer, has contacted a medium Ms Reynolds (Yeoh) to connect with a relative who died there.
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There is tension in the air, as weird things begin to happen like falling chimneys, and doors blowing open, but it isn’t enough to convince everyone that there are ghosts there. Ms. Reynolds makes contact with other spirits in the home. She does make contact with someone who was murdered in the house but before anyone can find out what happened to her, the medium awakes from the trance. Now that this has gone from the supernatural to a murder mystery, Poirot’s interest is piqued as he aims to get to the answers Ms. Reynold couldn’t.
From the start, the mystery unfolds at a steady pace. While there’s a heightened sense of anticipation, the plot is somewhat predictable. This, however, does not take away from the experience but plot events aren’t as exciting as the film wants them to be. However, in terms of tone, A Haunting in Venice finds a maturity that its predecessors perhaps lacked. There’s a balanced seriousness that anchors the narrative with a subtle blend of elements that are well executed. One feature of Branagh’s direction in this installment is his peculiar choice of framing characters off-center. This unusual style could be interpreted in many ways: perhaps as a reflection of the misaligned motives of the characters or simply a different approach to classic storytelling.
The cast, which includes the likes of Michelle Yeoh, Tina Fey, Jamie Dornan, Kelly Reilly, and Camille Cotton, all deliver measured performances that steer clear of the theatricality that can sometimes plague mystery adaptations. It’s a cast with real chemistry that blends well together.
The film benefits from its scaled-down approach. Previous adaptations, with their star-studded casts and expansive settings, felt vast—perhaps too vast for the intimate mysteries Christie writes. In the film, here’s a welcome return to a more confined space. Fewer characters allow for a deeper dive into each persona. As this tale is one of Christie’s lesser-known works, adapting it was a clever choice, filling in the gaps and nuances that the book might have left ambiguous.
There is a consistent conundrum regarding the continuation of these adaptations, given their minor success. With enormous budgets and A-list casts in the past, it was time to see A Haunting in Venice take a step back. This film appears to be more in line with Christie’s intent. Her narratives often thrived in confinement, sometimes to the point of being claustrophobic. Venice, with its labyrinthine canals and narrow alleyways, serves as the perfect backdrop for such a tale. This smaller scope and concise storytelling make this film the standout in Branagh’s Christie trilogy.
A Haunting in Venice seems to have captured the essence of what makes Agatha Christie’s works timeless. By scaling down and focusing on the smaller elements of both the plot and the characters, Branagh and his team have delivered a film that is both an homage to Christie and a film that far exceeds the first two.
Title: A Haunting In Venice
Distributor: 20th Century Studios
Release date: September 15, 2023
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenwriter: Michael Green
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Yeoh, Tina Fey, Jamie Dornan, Kelly Reilly, Camille Cottin
Running time: 1 hr 47min
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