More intimidating: Branagh adds darker twist to best Poirot outing yet

More intimidating: Branagh adds darker twist to best Poirot outing yet
  • PublishedSeptember 14, 2023

Director: Kenneth Branagh (Belfast)

Director: Kenneth Branagh (Belfast)

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Tina Fey, Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Dornan, Kelly Reilly

The mighty Herc returns to work

The third time of asking is definitely a charm for A Haunting in Venice. In the eyes of many, this will be the best we have seen of author Agatha Christie’s beloved Belgian investigator Hercule Poirot since decorated director and actor Kenneth Branagh revived this classic character for the big screen last decade.

While the previous two Poirot productions (Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile) were classy enough offerings and popular with audiences of all ages, both movies were drawn from the best-known works of Christie.

Conversely, A Haunting in Venice is destined to captivate and confound murder-mystery enthusiasts by virtue of its relatively untapped source material (Christie’s little-known 1968 book Hallowe’en Party).

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in A Haunting in Venice. Picture: 20th Century Studios

Not only is the tone struck by Poirot’s latest case, it’s less glamorous and more intimidating than before. The twists are harder to pick, and the potential perpetrators all exhibit that super-suspicious “theydunnit” factor crucial to the best whodunnits.

When we first encounter Poirot here, he is happily living the life of a retired recluse in a swanky Venetian villa, refusing all offers of work from locals aware of his legendary reputation.

It is only upon the surprise visit of an old friend – the famed mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) – that Poirot reluctantly returns to active duty, detecting and deflecting as only he can.

The case that captures his attention is indeed a curious one. Initially called upon to merely debunk the possibly flawless track record of a professional psychic known only as Mrs Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), Poirot soon finds himself investigating a murder that may cause another sudden death or two (or three) if not solved quickly.

Therefore Poirot orders the doors to a palatial palazzo locked for an entire evening so he can cross-examine those inside. One of them is definitely a killer. Others could be victims of that killer before the night is through.

Among those with something to say and plenty to hide are a shell-shocked ex-army medic (Jamie Dornan), his precocious young son (Jude Hill), a famous opera singer (Kelly Reilly), her huffy housekeeper (Camille Cottin) and a strange assistant linked to the Mrs Reynolds’ operation (Emma Laird).

The relatively confined setting ushers in a rising sense of claustrophobia that Branagh exploits cleverly as director. Of course, it helps that he is spearheading a cast that plays off each other surprisingly well, considering we are seeing many of the impressive support players for the first time.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 (PG)

General release

Nia Vardalos and John Corbett in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3Picture: Yannis Drakoulidis/Focus Features

Nia Vardalos and John Corbett in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3Picture: Yannis Drakoulidis/Focus Features

After outings of ever-descending quality, we have reached the point where it is time to file for a giant overweight Greek divorce from the Big Fat Greek Wedding gang.

Sure, everyone kind of loved the first one. But that was 20 years ago. And even though the original My Big Fat Greek Wedding told every gag in the book about being ethnically embarrassed by an eccentric extended family, it was skilfully written and endearingly acted.

Two movies later, all the life and laughs have been drained from the franchise. Which is a shame, as the premise here could have brought some fresh energy to the mix.

Still happily married and still highly strung after all these years, Toula (Nia Vardalos) suddenly finds herself leading the entire American-based Portokalos clan on a group pilgrimage to Greece itself, to honour the memory of her much-missed dad Gus.

No matter whether fleshing out a sappy subplot about young love or firing off a silly sight gag about how not to be a holiday-maker in Corfu, every single joke comes as flat, forced and futile. Avoid. Co-stars John Corbett, Andrea Martin.

Selected cinemas

British indie film Scrapper is a sparkling gem.

British indie film Scrapper is a sparkling gem.

What looks to be a rough-diamond prospect from the lower rungs of British indie cinema turns out to be a sparkling gem that deserves to be ranked with the best movies of 2023.

The powerful nucleus of a tale that will detonate bursts of great feeling when least expected is an unheralded young performer named Lola Campbell.

She plays the lead role of Georgie, a strikingly self-sufficient 12-year-old orphan who is all about simply getting on with life in suburban London now that her darling mum is no more.


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