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Christie haunts Branagh

If Agatha Christie represents the Shakespeare of Whodunnits, it makes sense for Kenneth Branagh to continue his reign exploring big budget movie versions of her mysteries featuring the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Switching over from his Shakespearean investigations like Henry V, Branagh revisited Christie’s characters and stories a few years ago with Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. Bringing in his own turns on the detective worked well enough to lead to his third effort, a variation of the book Halloween Party retitled to A Haunting in Venice. Like Branagh’s previous Christie films, A Haunting features a desirable, exotic location and twisty plays with the locked room mystery formula that requires a genius to figure out a murderer’s entrance and exit from an impenetrable set up. Branagh also goes in for a big screen tradition started back in the seventies when an older version of Murder on the Orient Express peopled its set of victims and suspects with an all-star cast of talented actors including Oscar winners. A Haunting brings on recently minted Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh along with Branagh’s Belfast alumni Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill, plus Yellowstone’s Kelly Reilley and comedian Tina Fey. In a variation from the other two well-known projects, screenwriter Michael Green uses the less famous Halloween Party as a springboard, maintaining a couple of ideas but shifting off into other directions. Christie purists may bristle, but the additions work well, especially with Fey’s take on a sort-of sidekick writer full of humorous asides. Does that free her from suspect status—even though she could definitely help a fourth Branagh-Poirot project? Of course not. Those of us who love whodunnits know better than to eliminate anyone—and that’s the fun of it.

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