The act of adaptation is something that can preserve a work of fiction in a whole other realm, or transform it into something truly cinematic. For actor/director Kenneth Branagh and writer Michael Green, their upcoming movie A Haunting in Venice was an opportunity to indulge in the latter practice, marking quite a departure from the source material Agatha Christie penned. And for great-grandson/CEO of the Christie estate, James Pritchard, that departure stoked up some specific feelings.
When I spoke with the exec during 20th Century Studios' press day for the latest Hercule Poirot film, we delved a little deeper into the world of these popular adaptations. The series that started with 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express has now entered into what feels like brand new territory. That's because Hallowe’en Party’s story and setting have been by way of A Haunting in Venice's fresh take on the 1969 novel.
As he revealed to CinemaBlend, James Pritchard did have his own hesitations about these changes. Those nerves were ultimately quelled by not only Michael Green’s writing abilities but also some confidence-inspiring factors:
One of the great things about this project is that the whole team has been together from the very beginning. Michael Green has written all three scripts, Kenneth Branagh’s directed all three movies and played Poirot, Steve Asbell at 20th Century [Studios] has been there from the beginning. So there’s been a huge level of trust, and when Michael kind of explained to me what he wanted to do with this movie, there was enough trust there with me to let him get on with it. I’m not saying I wasn’t nervous about what he might do, but the thing about Michael is he’s both a great writer and a great respecter of my great-grandmother’s work. What he has come up with, I think, does justice to what she tried to do, and that’s very high praise.
Without digging too deep into any spoilery details, A Haunting in Venice’s very title showcases one of the largest changes made to the original novel. Shifting the events from an English village to Venice is certainly a big jump, but it was also something that didn’t rob Hallowe’en Party of its claustrophobic setting.
Amping things up with theatricality, the secluded palazzo (which is notably glimpsed during a torrential downpour of rain) makes for just as dour a setting as a manor house in the middle of nowhere. One could definitely see where the CEO's nervous feelings would come in, as proposing a change of venue for any sort of mystery novel could be a recipe for disaster.
Agatha Christie's novels are especially vulnerable when it comes to making those sort of alterations, as the plot and events rely on the bespoke geography of the location involved. Meanwhile, the Venetian palazzo in the 2023 new movie release offered that same sort of precision in execution, it just expanded the territory vertically instead of maintaining a more traditional Christie landscape.
The result is a set that co-star Tina Fey compared to a Disneyland dark ride, and that craftsmanship helped to both dazzle and confuse the cast of A Haunting in Venice; just as Kenneth Branagh had planned. What certainly isn’t missing is the intense intrigue you’d find in the legendary mystery author’s work. Branagh and Michael Green’s previous entries in the Hercule Poirot canon honored the source material. That fondness for the Belgian detective and his adventures is still very much alive and well here.
Though this latest installment takes more of a turn towards a horror-thriller-tinged genre exercise, the DNA of a Poirot mystery still runs through its veins. If one were to go by the critical reaction to Hercule Poirot’s latest case, then it could be said that the third time is still a charm for this sleeper hit franchise.
What fans at large will have to say about what they see is something altogether different, which is why this weekend’s theatrical release of the film will be particularly exciting to watch. Here’s hoping the same well-deserved faith that James Pritchard has in Kenneth Branagh and Michael Green’s adaptation skills is shared yet again by those heading to theaters to see Hercule Poirot’s most mind-bending case yet starting on September 15.
In the meantime, if you’re looking to return to this world of Agatha Christie mystique a little early, you can always check out the previous Poirot film. Provided you have a Hulu subscription, Death on the Nile is currently streaming on that very platform, and serves as a great appetizer for this next course of murder.