A Haunting In Venice – A sinister world of shadows and secrets

“There is nothing more haunted than a Venetian palazzo, the city just calls for mist and masks, and the creepy crawly, throw-a-body-in-the-river kind of feel, ” says screenwriter Michael Green of A Haunting In Venice, an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party, marking his third collaboration with Oscar-winning director/producer Kenneth Branagh, following Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.

“It was on the Orient Express train that we first discussed ‘Death on the Nile’ and it was on the S.S. Karnak
that we started talking about what the third film could be,” says Green. “I remember during a lighting set up just leaning over the balcony of the Karnak at what was the blue screen that would eventually become the Nile River, and just thinking about what the right move for the next film would be. And for some reason, the subject of ghosts was on my mind, which is when I remembered Agatha Christie wrote a book called ‘Hallowe’en Party.’

First published in 1969, Hallowe’en Party is another title in the author’s popular Hercule Poirot
mystery series. Often referred to as the Queen of Mystery, Christie is the most widely published
author of all time. Her books have sold more than one billion copies in English and another billion
copies in over 100 foreign languages.

“Agatha Christie has the timeless, classic ability to present people in situations – often dangerous or criminal ones – where we recognize the characters’ humanity,” says Branagh. “The archetypes and also the very subtle readings of human behavior are ones that we really respond to…her perceptions seem universal and familiar.”

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in 20th Century Studios’ A HAUNTING IN VENICE. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

“Poirot, in this story, really has tried to back out of being a detective,” says Branagh. “He’s seen too much crime; he’s seen two world wars; he’s seen man’s cruelty to man, and he’s had enough, or so he says. And yet, he, as we’ve seen in the other films, he has a poetic, romantic side to his tough, detective persona. Part of him wants to believe.”

Branagh continues, “The story of the film is him engaging with what he thinks he believes in, what he then sees to confound that belief, and then whether what he sees, is real. There’s a constant self-examination along the way, and it becomes pretty exciting because it involves him and us being terrified.”

“Poirot is always searching for some kind of meaning in the vast scheme of things, but his fascination is always with the smallest detail,” says Branagh. “When you see Poirot, you see someone who watches the world closely, whether it is in a Venetian market, trying to find eggs, or with his delight at pastries and their many delicious varieties. We saw it in ‘Death on the Nile’ and we see it here once again, that there are many vanities, so tiny and small and human, that continue to be who he is, but he also triesto be a better human and to understand whether there is really any hope for us at all. And to do that, you have to engage with human behavior, sometimes very difficult human behavior. So he continues, despite himself, to be utterly fascinated by the human condition and why and how people will do things through love, greed, lust, and power, and sometimes cruelty, and sometimes forgetfulness, and sometimes recklessness He continues to be interested in the seven deadly sins and how they can be avoided.”

It is all Hallows’ Eve in an eerie Venice in the years following World War II, where celebrated
sleuth, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), now resides, retired, and living in self-imposed exile.
Poirot has said goodbye to all that. His experiences in crime, investigation, and seeing the worst
of humanity via another war, have caused him to give up. He spends his time doing everything
he can to avoid thinking about crime; but of course, crime comes to him.
Poirot receives a visit from an old friend, the world’s number-one mystery writer Ariadne Oliver
(Tina Fey), who has something she just has to show him, and promises it is not a crime. She wants
him to join her at a séance and help her prove that it is not real. Despite his better judgment,
Poirot finds himself intrigued and reluctantly agrees to attend the séance at a decaying, haunted
palazzo owned by famed opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly). When one of the guests is
murdered, the guests in attendance are all considered suspects, thrusting the Belgian detective
into a sinister world of shadows and secrets.

Also SEE: Death On The Nile / Murder On The Orient Express

Screenwriter Michael Green was also influenced by some of Christie’s short stories that touch on the supernatural

“There’s a collection of short stories published as ‘The Last Seance,’” says Green, “and its title story, ‘The Last Séance,’ is truly terrifying. So as much as ‘A Haunting in Venice’ is ‘Hallowe’en Party,’ it also has, in its DNA, Christie’s thoughts on the supernatural.”

The story audiences will watch unfold on screen, is somewhat different from Christie’s original book. Hallowe’en Party was written late in Agatha Christie’s career” explains Branagh, “and was essentially an English country house mystery. And given what we’ve done with the previous Christie adaptations and their exotic locations, Michael Green chose to make a big shift in the narrative and take the bones of Agatha Christie’s mystery and move it from England to Venice.”

The new screenplay includes the change in setting and is essentially a ghost story taking place in a haunted house over one scary night.

“It became more of a chamber piece with a smaller number of suspects, and Michael took the creative license to create a couple of additional subplots of his own,” says Branagh. “Michael’s draft reduced the number of people, transposed the setting from England to Venice, and set the majority of the story in the eternally, pictorially ravishing Venice, where he traps the suspects fairly early on, in a haunted palazzo on a stormy, scary night.”

(Facing front, L-R): Jude Hill as Leopold Ferrier, Camille Cottin as Olga Seminoff, Michelle Yeoh as Mrs. Reynolds, Jamie Dornan as Dr. Leslie Ferrier, and Kyle Allen as Maxime Gerard in 20th Century Studios’ A HAUNTING IN VENICE. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

“With ‘Death on the Nile’ we knew we were going to have a fidelitous interpretation of the book to screen,” says Green. “For ‘Hallowe’en Party‘ we felt that we’d hopefully earned the right to make some changes, just to tell a slightly different story that’s in the book. We have many nods to it, and it takes its DNA from it. But we were hoping that they would permit us to make the story a bit more dire, the original ‘Hallowe’en Party‘ novel takes place over several days, almost a week. ‘A Haunting in Venice’ happens on one haunted night. We move our location from the English countryside to haunted Venice and have a slightly different take on characters. More than a few changes, but we believe that it’s very much thematically in line.”

Fortunately, James Prichard, one of the film’s executive producers and Agatha Christie’s great-grandson approved of the changes to the story, as it still maintained the right tone and same spirit. “I was surprised initially,” Prichard says. “Michael talked about it a long time ago, and at the time I couldn’t quite see what he was trying to do and why he’d chosen this title as opposed to another more obvious one. But as time went on, he explained exactly what he was doing and thinking, and it is a very clever selection and execution. I think if we’d done another kind of similar adaptation of say Evil Under the Sun or Five Little Pigs or something like that, we’d have been accused of being boring.”

“One of the things that Ken and Michael have done is to create a depth of character for Poirot that my great-grandmother never did, really,” says Prichard. “I mean my great-grandmother didn’t really go into his psychological state at any point. He was actually fairly flat, I would say. But they have gone far deeper, digging into his background and what made him what he’s become. This is an interesting depiction of Poirot. I think it is Ken’s best performance as Poirot, and I think that the mystery challenges Poirot in a way that is interesting.”

“Our goal was always to try and produce that sort of knot-in-the-stomach, edge-of-your-seat experience for audiences,” says Branagh. “We wanted to take them to Venice and give them that vicarious thrill of being in this really quite beautiful, labyrinthine, electrifying city.”

“There is nothing more haunted than a Venetian palazzo,” adds Green, “and the city just calls for mist and masks, and the creepy crawly, throw-a-body-in-the-river kind of feel. We wanted to take advantage and use the inherent spookiness and the magic and luster of Venice, to make an unimaginably terrifying Halloween night.”

Green continues, “When we talked about the story or the theme, the word ‘haunting’ came up a lot, so it ended up in the title. Haunting can mean a lot of things. You can be haunted by a spirit, you can also be haunted by your past. You can be haunted by ideas, you can be haunted by darkness. Poirot is oddly all of those things. In this film, he struggles with whether he believes in the actual supernatural. But at the same time, he is a man haunted by all he’s gone through, and he’s seen so much death. Death is so present that whether the ghosts are real or not, he hears them at night and he sees them during the day, and it makes his life very difficult to live.”

“’ Death on the Nile ’was set in 1937,” says Branagh. “This film takes place ten years later. So there’s been a traumatic world war in between, one in which Hercule Poirot will have traveled and been aware of the carnage and the devastation. It is a kind of despair that we find him in at the beginning of this film; a disappointment that another generation could have gone to war after the one that we saw in ‘Death on the Nile ’that he fought in himself. And it is part of his decision to hide in plain sight, to no longer be part of this world where violence, crime, and murder, have left him pessimistic about his fellow man. So, he goes to a city where he can be anonymous.”

The pool of potential suspects has grown smaller from film to film, which, when combined with the claustrophobic feel of the palazzo setting provides an opportunity for the audience to spend
more time with each character.

According to Hofflund, “From the very beginning, we were interested in the idea of a creepy, scary, Agatha Christie movie coming out before Halloween. That combination of things felt really

“’Murder on the Orient Express’ dealt with revenge and ‘Death on the Nile’ dealt with greed,”
says Branagh. “This film is about the supernatural. Whether there is anything on the other side
of us: a ghost or a God…and whether Poirot now believes in it or not. That dilemma inevitably
involves him, and us, being very, very scared.”

The filmmakers are in agreement that it is very hard to surprise an Agatha Christie fan, primarily
because they have read enough books with enough endings that they are trained to find your
ending. “But with this one, because we’ve taken the liberty of changing the story, these longtime
fans can have the experience of getting a new Agatha Christie story,” says Green. “This ending
will definitely surprise them.”

Principal photography on “A Haunting in Venice” took place from October through December 2022, at Pinewood Studios outside London and in Venice, Italy for several weeks in January 2023. The talented creative team helping to bring director/producer Kenneth Branagh’s vision to life includes director of photography Haris Zambarloukos (“Belfast”), production designer John Paul Kelly (“Blackbird”), editor Lucy Donaldson (“Breaking News in Yuba County”), composer Hildur Gudnadóttir (“Tar”) and costume designer Sammy Differ (“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom). It’s production designer john Paul Kelly’s first film with director/producer Kenneth Branagh, and the film was both a massive undertaking, and a dream come true as well. “Michael Green cleverly reimagined ‘Hallowe’en Party‘ into a Venetian palazzo environment,
which is just a production designer’s dream, really,” says Kelly. “So I was immediately blown away with all the possibilities.” In order to bring Green’s story to life as detailed in his screenplay, the filmmakers decided to build the sets themselves. “We recreated the amazing haunted palazzo that we found in real
Venice, at Pinewood Studios,” says Branagh.

KENNETH BRANAGH is one of the world’s most acclaimed filmmakers and actors. Most recently, Branagh wrote and directed Belfast, and was most recently seen co-starring in Christopher Nolan’s latest feature
Oppenheimer, also appeared in Nolan’s Tenet, played the crucial role of Commander Bolton in Nolan’s epic Dunkirk, played Sir Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn.

Branagh directed, produced, and starred in Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express, directed and starred in All Is True, directed the live-action Cinderella, the latest installment of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan franchise in which he also starred. Additionally, he played and co-directed the live-taping stage version of Macbeth for the Manchester International Festival in the summer. Additionally, he directed the Marvel action-adventure, Thor.

Branagh’s first venture into filmmaking met instant success. His 1989 production of Henry V, which he adapted from Shakespeare and both starred in and directed, His second Shakespearean film success as actor, director, writer, and producer, was Much Ado About Nothing. He also directed a full-length version of Hamlet in 70mm, his fourth Shakespeare film adaptation was a 1930’s musical version of Love’s Labour’s Lost.

He directed and starred in Dead Again, next directed himself in the ensemble film Peter’s Friends, directed Robert De Niro in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, his black and white film A Midwinter’s Tale, opened the 1996 Sundance Film Festival and won the prestigious Osello d’Oro at the Venice Film Festival. He directed the HBO Films’ As You Like, It, a film of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute and Sleuth.

Outside of his roles on screen, Branagh maintains a strong connection to the theatre. In 2016, the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company took up a year-long residency at London’s Garrick Theatre. Branagh’s stage work began when he made his West End acting debut in Another Country, which earned him the Society of West End Theater’s Award for most promising newcomer. He founded the Renaissance Theatre Company . He also wrote the plays Public Enemy and Tell Me Honestly.

Branagh is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where he won the Bancroft Gold Medal. He succeeded Lord Attenborough as president of RADA in the summer of 2015. He received the prestigious Michael Balcon Award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for outstanding contributions to cinema. In 2012 he received a Knighthood for his services to drama and the community in Northern Ireland. And this year, Belfast awarded him with their Freedom of the City.

MICHAEL GREEN (Screenwriter) is a film and television writer and producer. His recent feature work includes writing Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express,, and co-writing Disney’s Jungle Cruise.
Additionally, Green wrote and executive produced 20th Century Studios’ The Call of the Wild, an adaptation of Jack London’s classic novel. In 2017 Green co-wrote Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve; Alien: Covenant, directed by Ridley Scott; and Logan, directed by James Mangold. In television Green is currently executive producer of the Netflix original animated drama Blue Eye Samurai, co-created by Green and Amber Noizumi. He is also the creator of NBC’s Kings and co-creator of Starz’s American Gods, adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel.
Green has produced and written multiple television shows, including Raising Dion, Heroes, Smallville, Everwood, and Sex and the City. His comic book writing includes best-selling runs on Superman/Batman, Batman: Confidential, Blade Runner 2019, and Supergirl (New York Times best-seller). Green has, additionally, written essays and opinion pieces for the Los Angeles Times, Thrillist, and others.