Mystery in Venice: how Kenneth Branagh reinvented Hercule Poirot

Mystery in Venice: how Kenneth Branagh reinvented Hercule Poirot

In three films, Kenneth Branagh has dusted off the Belgian detective. Mystery in Venice, more than the two previous ones, gives it humanity and confronts Poirot with his own flaws.

We know his final sentence on the character: “ He’s a selfish, hateful little old man. “. At the end of her life, Agatha Christie ended up hating Hercule Poirot. No doubt pronounced during a particularly acute crisis of artistic creation, this sentence said a lot about the love-hate relationship between the queen of crime and the king of investigation. This can be explained in different ways. But the most probable is the invasive place that the Belgian detective ended up taking in the author’s career.

Born in 1920 in The Mysterious Affair of StylesPoirot was the hero of 80 adventures and we know, thanks to his faithful companion Captain Hastings, what he looked like: “ Height: approximately one meter sixty; head oval, leaning a little to one side; eyes that cast greenish reflections when excited; very stiff military mustache; an air of impressive dignity “. For the rest ? Poirot remains elusive. Try to define Sherlock Holmes or James Bond!

The characteristic of all the greatest myths of pop culture is precisely to be evanescent and Poirot is no exception. They are heroes that everyone can project themselves into; and the more indefinite they are, the stronger their impact. Poirot is therefore a spirit of staircase, snobbery, arrogance, a Belgian accent. And a mustache, curled up, the finest in England “. A pure spirit, an intellectual mechanism that nothing can resist. From there, anything is possible. Particularly for his on-screen incarnation. In the cinema, Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov have created unforgettable interpretations. Albert Finney made him a serious, intense, almost animal character. A predator. At the other end of the spectrum, Peter Ustinov was warmer, more good-natured. His investigations were fun and full of surprises. Then came David Suchet, on TV. His mustache was too thin, but its composition, darker than the others, tried to give the Belgian a little character.

When Kenneth Branagh tumbles into the game, he immediately looks for an entry key to appropriate and even reinvent the character. The actor takes a risky bet: he will give it depth, a story, a past. A consistency. Where previous actors stuck to an image of glossy paper, Branagh therefore decides to breathe life into this essentially decorative envelope. It is the stroke of genius of Death on the Nile, second installment in the series. In the middle of the film, the filmmaker explained why Poirot wore his famous mustache. By doing the archeology of his hairy appendage, Branagh gave the character a real humanity. He gave him a life of suffering and disappointment. What James Pritchard, great-grandson of Agatha Christie and producer of the films, confirms:

Branagh and his screenwriter Michael Green brought a depth to Poirot that wasn’t in my great-grandmother’s books. The whole backstory imagined in Death on the Nile was absent from the novel, for example. This is what immediately appealed to me. This idea that they were going to analyze and investigate Poirot “.

As Daniel Craig did with Bond, Branagh actually made his hero… mortal. With small touches, the director-actor looked inside the character, making him let go of the pure territories of the mind to question his emotions. A few rare clues allowed us to imagine his past; his skeletons were dug up, and even (in a symbolic way), he was stripped bare… His superior intelligence was no longer a (super) power, but almost an inevitability. Beneath the exterior of the gleaming blockbuster, the director of Hamlet drew the books towards existential tragedy. Basically it was less a question of fidelity to Christie’s books than of making this character more real, more tangible. “ And above all he had the most beautiful mustache ever seen! “insists Pritchard.

Mystery in Venice is the best Hercule Poirot (review)

Mystery in Venice trace this furrow, and go even deeper. The idea on paper is absolutely brilliant: by freely adapting a less famous work by Christie, Branagh digs into Poirot’s flaws. Little known to the general public, but adored by fans, The Pumpkin Festival allows the actor-filmmaker to confront his hero with the supernatural and horror. He immerses his “block of rationality” in a mystical bath.

Kenneth really wanted to reinvent the character “, explains Pritchard. “ The idea was first to abandon the postcard imagery that sticks to Poirot’s adventures to play with a different genre. If we have to continue making films, we can’t do the same thing over and over again. I see this feature film as a new beginning. And as such, it’s true, it was risky. But it kept Poirot alive. To introduce him to new audiences. And try new things “.

Mystery in Venice in fact works like a quasi reboot. Poirot begins this film as a specter. Broken by the Second World War, worn out, he is a bruised man who lives a recluse. He even stopped investigating. He is only a shadow of himself until a new mystery imposes itself on him. This time, it’s not an investigation like any other. Mystery in Venice will make Poirot face his own contradictions and his own blinders. Between hallucinations, ghosts and specters, unleashed in a superbly produced Venetian irrationality, Branagh puts his Poirot to the test. Jump scares work like electroshocks that will restart the machine.

Basically, Branagh explodes the myth to discover the man. We leave the legend to return to the human. “ It’s true that it gives him a new humanity! » agrees Pritchard. “ And it’s magnificent! I think Kenneth understood the character from the inside and it’s quite moving to see that. I don’t know what the future will be… But there are other books to adapt. We certainly won’t run out of inspiration. And if Ken and Michael Green (the screenwriter of the trilogy, editor’s note) want to do others, we will support them without any problem. »

Hercules is dead? Long live Poirot. THE ” selfish and hateful little old man » has not said his last word.

Mystery in Venicecurrently in cinemas.

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