A Haunting in Venice review – Branagh improves on his Agatha Christie formula | Drama films

The contrast between Kenneth Branagh’s latest Poirot adventure, the enjoyably spooky mystery A Haunting in Venice, and the synthetic fakery of the previous instalment, Death on the Nile, could be used as a case study of the power of casting to make or break a movie. The essential ingredients are the same: Agatha Christie source material; the timeworn formula of a murder or two in an impossibly lavish location, followed by a whole mess of conflicting motivations to untangle. Branagh brings exactly the same degree of prissy, moustache-fondling affectation to his performance as the Belgian master detective. But this time he smartly casts actors who are able to disappear into their characters – Tina Fey, with her staccato, typewriter line delivery as crime novelist Ariadne Oliver; Kelly Reilly’s silky, luxuriant sadness as celebrated singer Rowena Drake. Compare that with Nile’s distractingly starry cast of actors self-consciously wearing their roles: garish fancy dress costumes rather than characters.

Another plus is the atmospheric Venice backdrop, its murky, swirling waters hinting at dark secrets that accumulate over centuries, like barnacles clinging doggedly to the buildings; its extravagant beauty framed slightly off-kilter. The story itself is fairly formulaic: Poirot is tempted by the opportunity to debunk Michelle Yeoh’s society medium at a Halloween seance, but soon finds himself sock-suspender-deep in bodies. It’s enjoyable, if familiar. A special mention should go to Jude Hill, the child actor who played Branagh’s younger self in Belfast and here shows impressive range with a deliciously unsettling turn as Leopold, the son of a shell-shocked and half-broken father.

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