A Haunting in Venice is Kenneth Branagh’s third Poirot film (after Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile) and as each one is worse than the last you could say he’s on a losing streak. Why someone with Branagh’s CV would persist, I don’t know. Why someone who has his dignity at heart hasn’t yet rugby tackled him to the ground while shouting ‘STOP!’, I also don’t know. That is the biggest mystery here.
The film is directed by Branagh, who yet again casts himself as Poirot even if we all know what Poirot looks like and that’s David Suchet. The first problem is that Hallowe’en Party, the Agatha Christie novel on which this is based, is set in an English village and goes nowhere. At the first mention of ‘Venice’ someone should have rugby tackled Branagh while shouting ‘STOP!’. He has also added some characters, dropped others, and changed the plot. But apart from that, it’s just like the book.
The action takes place in 1947 with Poirot having moved to Venice for his retirement although you do have to wonder: will he be up for one more job? As he meticulously tends to his roof garden – I will say one thing for this Poirot: he grows very fine cavolo nero – he receives a visitor. It’s his old friend Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), the bestselling mystery writer. She convinces him to attend a séance in a palazzo to prove that the medium (Michelle Yeoh) is fake. The séance has been arranged by Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), an opera singer, who owns the palazzo and whose daughter, Alicia has jumped (or was she pushed?) from a balcony into the canal. The palazzo is grand but decaying, and is said to be haunted by vengeful children.