Last Updated on December 20, 2023

With “A Haunting in Venice” (2023), director and star Kenneth Branagh has found a potent approach to Agatha Christie, producing a feature-length murder mystery with several juicy twists in the richly atmospheric setting of Venice in 1947.

A Haunting in Venice (2023), courtesy 20th Century Studios

To help keep this site running: Willow and Thatch may receive a commission when you click on any of the links on our site and make a purchase after doing so.

For his first two outings as Hercule Poirot, Kenneth Branagh selected two of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels: Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.

Branagh’s third Christie film is based on a lesser-known, late-career story, which has never made it to the big screen until now. This turns out to be a smart strategy, as few viewers will know the identity of the killer ahead of time in “A Haunting in Venice.” And the casting in this film is shrewder as well.

“A Haunting in Venice” (2023) is AVAILABLE to STREAM

Rated PG-13

Watch the TRAILER

When “A Haunting in Venice” (2023) begins, Poirot is attempting to retire in Italy, with little success. He’s troubled by nightmares during the night and would-be clients pleading for his detection services during the day. Poirot seems relieved when a friend turns up, Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), a successful author of a mystery series featuring a Finnish detective.

Mrs. Oliver has a challenge: She claims to have witnessed a medium connect with the dead at a séance in ways she can’t explain. “I’m the smartest person I ever met and I can’t figure it out, so I came to the second,” she says.

The medium in question, Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), will preside over a Halloween séance at a Venetian palazzo owned by an opera singer, Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly). Mrs. Oliver persuades Poirot to accompany her to the palazzo that night, to see if he can debunk the spiritualist.

A Haunting in Venice (2023), courtesy 20th Century Studios

The palazzo turns out to be a place with tragic secrets. Mrs. Drake’s grown daughter, Alicia Drake (Rowan Robinson), committed suicide by jumping off a balcony and plunging into the canal. In the weeks before she died, she said she was tormented by the ghosts of dead children who were imprisoned long ago in the palazzo.

We learn the legend of the doomed children from a storyteller at a youngster’s Halloween party. Once the children have gone home, the adults gather in Alicia’s bedroom. Present is a mentally ill doctor and friend of the family, Dr. Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan), along with his precocious son, Leopold (Jude Hill). We also have the devoutly Catholic housekeeper, Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin), and Alicia’s ex-fiance, Maxime Gerard (Kyle Allen), who was invited but no one knows by whom.

Poirot applies his formidable brain to the problem of the medium’s powers and seems to have solved it, but that is just the start of the story. Shortly after the séance, someone tries to kill Poirot and several minutes later, someone is found murdered in the palazzo. The rest of the film is taken up with Poirot trying to solve the mystery.

With the third Poirot film, there is none of the epic sweep of Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” or “Death on the Nile.” Since the effects of the cross-continent train ride, and the trip to Egypt, were achieved through obvious CGI, that is for the best. In this film, the focus is on very few locations in Venice, most of which takes place at night. This is just the right environment for a mystery with a touch of the supernatural. The sharply angled camera shots reveal shadowy corridors, grim gardens, and dusty passageways that remind one that Branagh was very effective in the suspenseful 1991 film “Dead Again,” co-starring his then-wife, Emma Thompson.

While the very American Tina Fey is not wholly convincing as a writer of 30 mysteries, she has a light touch and proves a good standby and sounding board for Poirot—almost serving as a Colonel Hastings.

A Haunting in Venice (2023), courtesy 20th Century Studios

The best performance in “A Haunting in Venice” is given by Michelle Yeoh as the medium. Several of the characters in the movie are haunted by the past, stricken by family loss or the horrors of World War II, but the expression in Yeoh’s eyes and the richness in her voice convince you that this is a woman who has seen darkness. It’s enough to make a chill race up your spine.

In his earlier films as Poirot, Kenneth Branagh has lacked the grand eccentricity of Albert Finney (Orient Express), the warmth of Peter Ustinov (Nile), or the portly, fussy charm of David Suchet, who inhabited Poirot for many seasons on television. Branagh’s Poirot, despite being a gourmand, which is one of the Belgian detective’s famous traits, is slender. His only distinguishing feature is his large mustache.

In “A Haunting in Venice,” Branagh has created a more relatable Poirot. He is disgusted by the profession of mediumship, known to exploit the sadness of the grieving. After he has been attacked, he is understandably angry. But while investigating, he becomes unsettled by voices and fleeting visions. In other words, we have a vulnerable Hercule Poirot here, and it works in this film. “A Haunting in Venice” makes for a deliciously eerie evening in front of the television.

For a more faithful counterpoint, watch the television version of Christie’s original novel. “Hallowe’en Party” (2010), the second episode of “Poirot” in Season 12, is set in the English country village of Woodleigh Common. A murder is committed after a young girl announces at a Halloween party, “I once saw a murder but I didn’t know it!”

A back-to-back watch is not only fun, but illuminates what this interpretation and Branagh’s film have in common (bobbing for apples is critical to both adaptations), and where they divide (there’s no hint of Venice or seances in Hallowe’en Party).

For those who enjoy Agatha Christie, both adaptations of her story are well worth seeing.

“A Haunting in Venice” (2023) is AVAILABLE to STREAM

Rated PG-13

Watch the TRAILER

Nancy Bilyeau is the author of seven historical novels. Her latest is The Orchid Hour, set in 1923 New York. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, saying, “Historical mystery fans will find this irresistible.” To learn more, go to

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to see The Period Films List, with the best British, historical and costume dramas sorted by era. You’ll also want to see our reviews of “Agatha and the Truth of Murder” (2018) and “Death on the Nile” (2004), as well as the television special “Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen” (2023).