Whisper it quietly – Kenneth Branagh has finally cracked the case of how to play the perfect version of Hercule Poirot.
A Haunting In Venice marks the third film that Branagh has directed and starred in a feature film about the indomitable Belgian detective created by Agatha Christie, and it’s arguably his best one yet.
Based loosely on the Christie’s 1969 novel Hallowe'en Party, the film sees Poirot in full recluse mode, cutting himself off from the world and self-exiling himself to Venice, and even employing a full-time bodyguard Vitale Portfoglio (Riccardo Scamarcio) to keep unwanted visitors and wannabe clients at bay.
One day, bestselling author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) shows up at his doorstep with a tantalising request. She wants him to help her disprove the supernatural claims of celebrity medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh).
The medium is due to conduct a seance for wealthy former actress Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly) to contact her late daughter Alcia, who died at the supposedly haunted pallazo she lives in.
However, when a gruesome murder occurs, Poirot is thrust back into action as he tries to pinpoint the murderer before the night is over.
It has been fascinating to see how Branagh has grown into the character over his three Poirot films.
In television terms, you could say that 2017’s The Murder On The Orient Express was his awkward Season One. In that film, it often felt as though Branagh was playing a mere caricature of Poirot – with a little too much emphasis on the accent, and his little gestures and movements a little too rehearsed. At times, it even felt like he was being too self-conscious of that monster of a moustache he sports (which itself deserves top billing on all the posters).
From the confined spaces of the Orient Express, Branagh then moved on to the sunnier, more expansive sets of Death On The Nile. Having done well enough with ‘Season One’ to warrant a second, Branagh was free to move past the usual Poirot tropes and add his own flourishes and touches to the detective’s personality. It worked to an extent, but Branagh’s dramatic flourishes still tended to overshadow the character somewhat.
With A Haunting In Venice, however, something has finally clicked. It may have taken him three films to get here, but we now have arguably the most complete version of Branagh’s Poirot.
Perhaps it’s the fact that we’ve already gotten used to him and his moustache, but our little grey cells are no longer screaming at us to say this is Kenneth Branagh playing Hercule Poirot. He has embodied the role so well and naturally that there really is no doubting it anymore – he IS Hercule Poirot.
All three films have also benefited tremendously by the sheer star power of their ensemble casts. Here, Branagh is ably supported by the likes of newly-minted Oscar winner Yeoh, and a surprisingly subdued Fey, as well as another shining performance by child actor Hill (who famously played a young Branagh in his semi-autobiographical film Belfast in 2021).
But that’s not all that’s worth watching here. Branagh has also cleverly disguised the murder mystery as a horror movie, complete with jump scares and spooky spirits.
This not only spices up the ‘interview every suspect’ formula that has served him well in the last two films, but also adds a supernatural mystery on top of the one Poirot is attempting to unravel.
The result is arguably the most accomplished and, for non-conformists, the least boring of the three Poirot films so far. This, and coupled with Branagh’s mastery of the role at long last, makes A Haunting In Venice well-worth the watch, and also gives hope that this would not be the last time we’ll see Monsieur Poirot on the big screen.
Worth engaging the little grey cells for