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'A Haunting in Venice': Agatha Christie's great-grandson applauds Kenneth Branagh's 'bold' movie

Starring Branagh and Tina Fey, the latest Christie adaptation draws us into a supernatural mystery

Based on the Agatha Christie novel "Hallowe’en Party," Kenneth Branagh and Tina Fey lead A Haunting in Venice (in theatres Sept. 15), the third Christie collaboration for Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green.

While A Haunting in Venice may actually the best in this trilogy of films, compared to both Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, it's also the adaptation that's the most significant departure from the text.

The film sets the scene with Hercule Poirot (Branagh) seemingly retired from his crime investigations after the Second World War, residing in Venice. But when mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Fey) shows up, wanting him to join her in a séance held by the infamous Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) to prove it's a hoax, mysteries start to emerge.

They head to a palazzo owned by opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), who wants Mrs. Reynolds to enable her to speak to her daughter who died young from an apparent suicide. But as a storm rages on outside the home, we'll just say that Poirot's retirement is cut short.

This image released by 20th Century Studios shows Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, left, and and Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver in a scene from
This image released by 20th Century Studios shows Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, left, and and Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver in a scene from "A Haunting in Venice." (20th Century Studios via AP)

'They need to put their own impact on the story'

For James Prichard, an executive producer on the movie and Christie’s great-grandson, when it comes to establishing how to stay true to the spirit of his great-grandmother's work in filmmaking, he identified that it starts with working with the right people to put these stories "in the best hands possible."

"We try and pick our partners very carefully, and then once we've picked them, to trust them," Prichard told Yahoo Canada.

"It's an incredibly difficult thing to get right and some people might argue that at times we don't, but I think my great-grandmother herself, she struggled with the early adaptations of her books into stage plays. She felt that actually, I think, the writers weren't radical enough, they didn't understand the fact that for different media you needed to be more radical, you needed to make more significant changes. I kind of take solace from that."

Prichard added that from his perspective, anyone adapting Christie’s stories needs to be "bold" and "creative."

"They need to put their own impact on the story," he said.

"Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile were actually pretty faithful adaptations of the novels, they stayed pretty close to the story. A Haunting in Venice is a much looser adaptation, .... the clue being that the title has changed, ... the location has changed from an English country village to Venice."

This image released by 20th Century Studios shows Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in a scene from
This image released by 20th Century Studios shows Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in a scene from "A Haunting in Venice." (20th Century Studios via AP)

Throughout all of Branagh and Green's adaptations of Christie's work, there has been an emphasis on letting the audience in on the psychological state of Poirot, something notably not fully developed in the novels.

"They have wanted to explore the nature the character and even the past of Poirot," Prichard stressed.

He highlighted that in A Haunting in Venice, the movie strives to go into the depths of Poirot's beliefs and self-confidence.

"Poirot starts this film in a bit of a ... depression," Prichard said. "He is retired again, he's refusing to see anyone, to take cases, and Ariadne Oliver turns up and ... takes him out into the world to investigate a case."

"He has the fear that maybe it's beyond him, that there is something at play here that is above and beyond him, that there is a supernatural being. ... But by the end of it, he has come kind of full circle and he's back to being himself again, and ready to face the world, and perhaps face more cases."

The entrance to the Agatha Christie exhibit at the Pointe a Calliere Museum is shown on Tuesday, December 22, 2015 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
The entrance to the Agatha Christie exhibit at the Pointe a Calliere Museum is shown on Tuesday, December 22, 2015 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

'Frankly, she doesn't get the credit'

Reflecting on the scope of his great-grandmother's work, Prichard believes that some of her accomplishments, as the most widely published author of all time, have been "understated."

"She is the bestselling author of all time, bestselling novelist of all time, and she was born in 1890, in England, she was a woman, which is extraordinary in itself," Prichard said. "Frankly, she doesn't get the credit for that."

"We have a great habit, I think, of underestimating people of supreme talent and she is definitely a person of supreme talent. ... I would say now that she and her work is taken more seriously than at any time in my life, ... the fact that people at the talent of [Kenneth Branagh] wants to direct her films, want to play Poirot, I think is testimony to her talent. I think that is something that I'm incredibly proud (of)."