Somehow, autumn and a cosy mystery just belong together. Right on schedule, this September director and star Kenneth Branagh brings us his third outing as Hercule Poirot, A Haunting in Venice, following Murder On The Orient Express and Death On The Nile.
This time, the moustachioed sleuth will be taking a jaunt to Venice, where he finds a mystery that may have creepier overtones than we might expect of Agatha Christie’s previous adaptations. With suggestions of ghosts and apparitions in the trailers, could this be less of a who-dunnit and more of a boo-dunnit? Branagh himself has described this one as a “supernatural thriller”, though he stopped short of promising a full-on horror. Either way, it looks like the toughest challenge yet for his supremely rational Belgian detective.
The story is loosely based on Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, first published in 1969 and far less well known than the bases of Branagh’s two earlier outings – which of course allows more scope to surprise us as an audience. Branagh and his returning screenwriter Michael Green have moved the story’s action from the English countryside to the supremely scenic city of Venice, which fits in with Branagh’s previous Mediterranean adventures in Egypt and on a train from Istanbul.
The filmmakers have added far more creeping dread than even the great Queen Of Crime managed. This time, a retired Poirot is living quietly in Venice. He is a little removed from the world until he is asked by novelist friend Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) to investigate medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), who has apparently mystical abilities that Oliver is at a loss to explain. Poirot attends a session and finds a murder. Perhaps some things are inevitable.
As is traditional, Branagh has assembled an extraordinary cast to play his victim(s) and suspects. Here, you have a compelling bunch, all locked inside a Venetian palazzo on a dark and stormy night. Is the baddie going to be Poirot’s pal Ariadne, a writer who might just have the intelligence to pull off a crime to baffle even the Belgian brainiac? Could it be newly minted Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh’s psychic, all icy composure and steely insistence that she has genuine paranormal powers? Or perhaps the finger of blame will point to Kelly Reilly (TV’s Yellowstone) as the culprit? Could it be 50 Shades Of Grey’s Jamie Dornan as Dr Leslie Ferrier? Or John Wick’s Riccardo Scamarcio as Vitale? Everyone is a suspect until the killer is found.
Branagh has reunited some of his Belfast stars for A Haunting in Venice, in Dornan and Jude Hill, and in crew members including cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, who has clearly worked hard to give this a dark and sinister aesthetic, in direct contrast to the sun-kissed Death On The Nile.
Elsewhere, however, Branagh has brought aboard new collaborators, notably in Oscar-winning composer du jour Hildur Guðnadóttir (Joker) to write the score.
As ever, there will be secrets, revelations and probably a few more deaths before the murderer is uncovered. What’s unique about this case is the horror-tinged trailer that suggests Poirot cannot trust his own senses, or the “little grey cells”, to tell what is real and what is not. Is there something really uncanny happening?
The previous two Poirot films delivered precisely what they promised in the title. If they are anything to go by, this trip to Venice could leave us truly haunted.
By Helen O’Hara