Kenneth Branagh returns as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot in the terrifying murder mystery, A Haunting in Venice. The famed Belgian sleuth is lured out of retirement by crime novelist Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey). Bereaved opera star Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), whose daughter Alicia (Rowan Robinson) committed suicide, has invited spiritual medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) to host a séance. Oliver wants the skeptical Poirot to prove that Reynolds is a fraud. He accepts the challenge but is confronted with seemingly supernatural forces as the night devolves into several baffling murders.
James Prichard is the Chairman and CEO of Agatha Christie Limited. The iconic author’s great-grandson spoke with MovieWeb about adapting her 1969 novel Hallowe’en Party into A Haunting in Venice. Prichard credits screenwriter Michael Greene, who’d also done Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, with putting “his case forward” to “do something different.” He wanted “a very different tone from anything that we’ve done with Agatha Christie in the past.” The goal is to “surprise and hopefully delight” by “using elements of horror [to] widen the audience.”
Prichard has “an enormous amount of trust” in his “extraordinary team.” He states frankly, “There is no need for me to tell Ken [Branagh] what to do.” Prichard’s “role is very much at the beginning” as executive producer with Greene showing “the adaptability of these stories”, “what you can do with them”, and is “able to create a first draft that’s almost perfect.” Prichard is “a believer in baby steps.” He won’t comment on the possibility of a fourth film with Branagh, but knows “we’ve got an awful lot of material to work from” with “33 Hercule Poirot novels.”
Read on for our complete interview with James Prichard, and you can watch our video interview with him above.
An Obscure Adaptation
MovieWeb: Why adapt Hallowe’en Party to a feature film? It seems like a relatively obscure choice out of the more popular Agatha Christie novels.
James Prichard: It’s a question I asked Michael Greene, the writer, when he first talked to me about it. He brought it up a long time ago, and I wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do or why he wanted to do it. Two or three years ago, we had a meeting with him, Ken Branagh, and Steve Asbell from 20th Century [Studios]. He put his case forward. He felt very strongly that having done two big famous classic adaptations, faithful adaptations, in Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, that we should do something different. We should surprise the audience. He wanted to use Hallowe’en Party as a launching pad.
James Prichard: I think you will have seen that this film has a very different tone from the other two. In fact, possibly a very different tone from anything that we’ve done with Agatha Christie in the past. That will surprise and hopefully delight people. It is, at its heart, a murder mystery, but it is also a suspense film, a thriller, possibly elements of horror in there too. That just shows the adaptability of these stories and what you can do with them.
MW: Greene does a great job here. I saw it as a horror film. There are sinister, jump-out-of-your-seat elements that I wasn’t expecting from a Hercule Poirot story. Are you looking to bring in a younger audience?
James Prichard: I just want to have as large an audience as we can get. I don’t care if they’re young, old, or both. I tend to feel that if you make a great movie, people will come and watch it. I hope this is a great movie. I think it is. I think if you start trying to overthink things, you end up in a mess. What we’ve tried to do is just do something a little bit different with the genre.
James Prichard: I accept, agree even, that there are elements of horror here, but it is still, at its heart, a murder mystery. That is key to Agatha Christie and key to this project. It’s key to Hercule Poirot. The tone will surprise people. I hope they will enjoy it. As I said earlier, it shows the adaptability of these stories. I think to place it in this genre, if that’s what we’ve done, just hopefully will widen the audience, whether that’s younger, older, or just bigger, I don’t mind.
What We Have Is Magic
MW: You’re responsible for shepherding Agatha Christie’s works to make sure they’re done correctly. Here you have Kenneth Branagh, one of the greatest filmmakers, stage, and screen actors of the modern era. He’s incredible as Poirot. As executive producer, are you hands-off as far as the creative process and casting? How involved are you with the film as it proceeds?
James Prichard: One of the great joys of this project is that we’ve had an extraordinary team that’s been in place from the beginning. There’s an enormous amount of trust. You’ve pointed out that there is no need for me to tell Ken what to do (laughs). I’d be mad to be doing it. So, I don’t. My role is very much at the beginning. But actually, with this team, I find that I am not as needed as maybe I can be. The key to great films, to great Agatha Christie films, is the script. In Michael Greene, we have someone who seems to be able to create a first draft that’s almost perfect. Once you’ve got that, you then leave it to your filmmaker to do what he or she does with it. In Ken Branagh, we have an extraordinarily talented guy. That’s why we get these extraordinary results. So just let them get on with it is the basic premise.
MW: What was the best and worst day for you as CEO of Agatha Christie Limited on A Haunting in Venice?
James Prichard: The best moment I have is seeing the finished product and knowing that what we have is magic. There is always an element of relief there, or there has been so far. The worst moments are earlier on in the process. I’m terrible when I see clips, or rushes, or things like that. Because at that point, I just can’t put it all together in my head, and I think it’s going to be terrible. So there’ll be a moment of severe self-doubt in the process, which is the worst moment.
MW: These films have been spectacularly successful. Where does Kenneth Branagh take Hercule Poirot next?
James Prichard: I’m a great believer in baby steps. Let’s hope this film does as well as you think it will. I hope it will. Then we’ll see where it goes, and we can have that conversation. The great thing is that my great-grandmother wrote 33 Hercule Poriot novels, so we’ve got an awful lot of material to work from.
A Haunting in Venice is currently in theaters from 20th Century Studios.