Film review: A Haunting in Venice

Desperate to find solitude in the glamorous city of Venice, detective Hercule Poirot finds himself once more witness to a murder, this time at a séance in a decaying palazzo. 

Starring Kenneth Branagh once again as Hercule Poirot, and described as a supernatural thriller rather than a horror, we find ourselves in the third, though hopefully not the last instalment of another of the Agatha Christie’s 66 novels. With a budget of $60m we are again placed in the capable hands of producers Ridley Scott & Judy Hofflund who have been the backbone of the last 2 visually stunning Branagh/Christie films.

Once again we have an all-star cast and a beautiful backdrop, this time the glorious city of Venice, Italy. Opening with shots of avian death and brutality in St. Mark’s Square, we find ourselves on the sizeable yet tranquil roof of Poirot’s hideaway near the Academia Bridge. He’s in a place where his need to solve crimes of not so perfect strangers has all but vanished. Based on a later book by Agatha Christie’s 1969 ‘Hallowe’en Party’, we are delivered on the whole the main cast of characters but with a few artistic and very stylish location set changes.

With standout roles from Kelly Reilly as the hurt Rowena Drake, mother and Soprano opera singer to her apparently suicidal daughter Alicia Drake played by Rowan Robinson, and Tina Fey who plays Ariadne Oliver, who is finding herself in a very similar role to the one she plays so well in the award winning ‘Only Murders In The Building’, both producing the gravity required for these central figures. The interesting role here though is played by Michelle Yeoh as Joyce Reynolds. Originally in the book, Joyce was the young girl who inadvertently witnesses the murder; but here the character is now the medium who channels the death of the young girl and indeed deaths as a career. This move takes us away from the overused tranquil gardens of England and a book that was partially frowned upon for its apparently lazy dictative writing to one of Branagh’s darkest treats in the now trilogy of hopefully many more to come.

 

Set over one stormy, claustrophobic night in this atmospheric ancient city, the whole premise works magnificently, providing us with immersive story telling that has now become second nature to Branagh. Screen writer Michael Green chose this city as he was looking for the eeriness that came with a place of such historic value where according to Poirot’s bodyguard the buildings are either cursed or haunted. Mostly filmed at Pinewood studios and of course in Venice itself at several locations, including the world-famous Piazza San Marco and the Ponte dei Sospiri, (the Bridge of Sighs) the last view of hundreds of prisoners before their death, the cinematography is hauntingly dark and brilliantly claustrophobic using obscure angled camera shots to help with the purposeful overall confusion of the unknown.

Branagh has used a running theme from his semi biopic film ‘Belfast’ to here with actors Jamie Dornan as the war fatigued Mr. Ferrier, father to Leopold Ferrier played by Jude Hill, with some background props also appearing in both. Their interaction plays as well in both films leaning more heavily on the style in this but with great outcome. The use of Alicia Drake’s bed played a pivotal part with its positioning within the now unused bedroom laid next to rather than away from the wall has been likened to a ‘tomb’.

The additional casting of Emma Laird as Desdemona Holland, and Amir El-Masry Alessandro Longo, as Joyce Reynolds’ assistants bring in another dimension to the straight ‘who dunnit’ with the necessary possible red herrings required in this genre, that adds to rather than takes away from the overall feel but leaves a sense of wanting greater depth from the main stars. With the running time of 1h 47mins, the film could have easily added time to delve further into the main cast and in turn given us further depth and greater intrigue with the overall outcome. Also delving early on into the backstory of the ‘Children’s Vendetta’ within the dungeon of the home, we could be in for an amazing prequel that has the potential to be darker still.

With Kenneth Branagh now beginning to play with the story and settings of the mostly loved and trusted author to even better visual storytelling, only his fertile imagination will be his limiting factor with many more books to take his ideas from in this cosy ‘murder mystery’ genre, which on the whole plays extremely well and would welcome further visual and mental treats.

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Piers, Maidstone Store

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