Monday, February 26, 2024

Murder in Venice, the review: breaking down a mystery to build a thriller

Murder in Venice, the review: breaking down a mystery to build a thriller

The review of Murder in Venice, at the cinema from 14 September, the third adventure directed and starring Kenneth Branagh who this time deviates considerably from the original novel to propose a chamber mystery which is also a horror with a dark and fascinating Venice.

Murder in Venice, the review: breaking down a mystery to build a thriller

There are those who have so far appreciated theHercule Poirot by Kenneth Branagh, those who are faithful to TV’s David Suchet and those who still can’t forget Peter Ustinov’s. The director and actor himself has collected a crowd of fans, especially in recent years, but at the same time a number of haters who don’t appreciate his work at all because in their opinion it is lazy and lacks invective and directorial flair. Who knows if the latter will change their minds when reading ours review of Murder in Venice, the last chapter of this “TV series at the cinema” as the 20th Century Studios franchise has now become, in theaters from September 14th. This is because compared to the two previous novels chosen – Murder on the Orient Express e Murder on the Nile – here the work of adaptation and transformation from one medium to another is much more substantial and substantial: let’s discover together why and what Branagh wanted to communicate to us with this latest effort of his.

A mystery that is a horror

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Murder in Venice: Kenneth Branagh and Tina Fey in a scene from the film

The first substantial change that Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green make from Agatha Christie’s original novel Poirot and the Massacre of the Innocents it is the genre to which the film belongs. Let’s be clear, we are always on the side of crime fiction (there is a real homage which we will come to in a moment) but this time the British director chooses to focus on thriller dalle tinte horror, setting the story no longer in the English countryside but in our Venice, to be precise after the Second World War, with the above all psychological consequences of the world conflict still fresh for people. The one we see in the film is a Venice almost totally in the grip of the storm – a very Shakespearean choice, and we couldn’t expect anything less from Branagh – and smoky, constantly shrouded in fog as if its buildings, ancient, imposing and full of mysteries, stood on nothing more than a lagoon.

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Murder in Venice: Kelly Reilly in a scene from the film

Given the almost fantasy atmosphere, the message that Branagh chooses for his feature film could only be supernatural, namely faith in life after death, after talking about what a united community like the one on board the Orient can achieve Express or what one is willing to do for love, with often tragic consequences, on the banks of the Nile. This time it is believe the key word that torments all the characters, first of all the Belgian detective who believes in science and deduction par excellence, and which the old friend Ariadne Oliver (a bubbly Tina Fey, who proves to be a perfect comic sidekick for the protagonist) goes to “disturb” in the self-exile in which he has holed up to make him participate in a very special evening organized by the soprano Rowena Drake (Kelly Reillywho speaking of detective stories you might remember as Mrs. Watson in the two Sherlock Holmes by Guy Ritchie).

Murder on the Orient Express: Lumet and Branagh’s films compared

A horror film that is a chamber mystery

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Murder in Venice: Michelle Yeoh in a scene from the film

The woman agreed to host a séance with the famous Joyce Reynolds (a magnetic Michelle Yeoh), a world-famous medium who received a communication from the afterlife from the woman’s daughter, Alicia, who tragically died a year earlier in that very ancient palace. You can still hear her voice around the house, as well as that of the children who were imprisoned and left to die many years before, who, according to legend, remained like ghosts to haunt her home. Or at least that’s what they say. Typical horror shots, jump scare, chandeliers falling to the ground and shattering, the pouring rain, the waves crashing on the gondolas, doors slamming, the camera keeping the pace and quickly moving from one character to another, from a detail to a first floor. All elements that give a very different rhythm to the film compared to the two previous chapters, denoting a clear directorial intent behind the scenes. During the session, Joyce claims to know that a murder has been committed, although no one seems to give it any importance since no one, except for her landlady, believes it could really be the girl’s spirit. Just like in the novel she was a little girl named Joyce Reynolds, who no one believed, who claimed to have witnessed a murder, only to end up drowned in the barrel of the apple game.

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Murder in Venice: Riccardo Scamarcio on the set

Yet the maid, Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin), a convinced believer, thinks it is the “curse of children” who take revenge on nurses and doctors who left them locked up to die, while little Leopold (Jude Hill, or the child alter ego of Branagh in his Belfast) is convinced that he has many of the deceased children as friends. Much more skeptical are Poirot’s bodyguard, the ex-policeman Vitale Portfoglio (our Riccardo Scamarcio), Dr. Ferrier (Jamie Dornan), who is dealing with PTSD from the war, and the irascible chef Maxime who was engaged to Alicia (Kyle Allen). Everyone is a suspect, as in the literary tradition of Agatha Christie and above all in the investigative code of the Belgian detective, to whom Branagh manages to once again give that look full of veiled sadness.

Murder on the Nile: what changes (and why) in Kenneth Branagh’s film

An evening for the dead (and the living)

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Murder in Venice: Kenneth Branagh in a photo

The evening also included the participation of the orphans, including the game of picking apples in their mouth while they are in a tub of water: a tub in which Poirot’s face ends up, mistaken for Joyce, having a sort of near-death experience . From that moment on, a child’s voice and face continue to torment him and, when the real Joyce is brutally killed, the Belgian detective sees his investigative fire suddenly reawakened and decides to lock everyone in that house full of secrets to reveal at least those relating to the murder just committed. At this point horror soon becomes a chamber mystery, with some extremely theatrical sequences (just like in the English director’s CV). Quite the opposite of the paper original, in which anyone could have passed through the crime house and the suspects multiplied from page to page.

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Murder in Venice: Jamie Dornan in a scene from the film

The evening coincides with Halloween night and therefore with All Saints’ Eve, during which traditionally the border between the afterlife and our world becomes much thinner and it is precisely on this sensation borderline who plays the whole film. While keeping the main events intact but changing much of the plot – you will be surprised until the end, if you have read the novel – Kenneth Branagh manages to give new life and new life to the pages, cloaking the entire narrative with the feeling that there is something more in this world that not even the smartest detective in the world can deduce. All we can do is keep our fingers crossed for a fourth film, which perhaps has the same courage as this chapter. Because you can never get enough of murders (and detective stories) in cinema.


We conclude our review of Murder in Venice by confirming how this time Kenneth Branagh spent much more than previously to transform the original novel into a horror-tinged thriller, to then turn it into a chamber mystery, reversing the point of view once again paper. The characterizations and interpretations of the characters are convincing, above all the chemistry between Branagh and Tina Fey and little Jude Hill, already seen in his Belfast. The mystery succeeds as well as the twists, while in the background the theme of the world of the afterlife and what awaits us after death takes hold.

Because we like it

  • The distortion of the original novel while maintaining its key points faithful.
  • Having made the novel a horror thriller and at the same time paid homage to the chamber mystery.
  • The duration and the fast pace (assisted by the first).
  • The chosen cast, especially Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver as the comic sidekick.

What’s wrong

  • Purists of the book and Agatha Christie may not appreciate the drastic changes made.
  • Many sequences and some character characterizations are exaggerated (but they are deliberately so).