"Dead Again"

Kenneth Branagh tells us how he left Shakespearean clues in this most romantic -- and thrilling -- of romantic thrillers.


Stephanie Zacharek
July 31, 2000 11:52PM (UTC)

"Dead Again"
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Andy Garcia, Derek Jacobi
Paramount; widescreen
Extras: Theatrical trailer, producer and screenwriter commentary, director commentary

Kenneth Branagh's 1991 film, "Dead Again," is an exceedingly rare creature: A completely modern-feeling romantic thriller that also has a gorgeously shaped and rounded sense of the past. A young woman (Emma Thompson, who puts her wide-eyed beauty and snap-tight timing to wonderful use) shows up mysteriously at the gates of a very Gothic-looking orphanage, unable to speak or to remember who she is. A freewheeling detective (Branagh) is hired to do a little digging into her past, and, of course, he proceeds to fall in love with her. An antiques dealer/hypnotist (Derek Jacobi) helps Thompson unearth some interesting bits of her history -- most significantly a link between herself and Roman Strauss, a European composer who was put to death for murdering his concert-pianist wife, Margaret, some 40 years earlier.

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The story takes place both in the present and in 1948 -- the period sequences were shot in lush black and white -- with Branagh and Thompson playing the central characters in both settings. "Dead Again" moves along at a clip, entertaining us with little twists, and some big ones, along the way. And even as romantic thrillers go (by definition, they should be both thrilling and romantic), "Dead Again," with its love-beyond-the-grave motif, is very, very romantic. Branagh and Thompson's '40s romance scenes in particular have a luxurious, smoldering feel. (And the gorgeous period costumes and accouterments don't hurt.)

Branagh's commentary included on the DVD sheds all kinds of light on the making of the picture, from the difficulty of certain camera pans to the challenges Branagh faced in perfecting his American accent for the role. (Relatively unknown in the States at the time, he'd practice by going out to restaurants and movies in L.A., hoping to fool people and apparently succeeding.) Branagh is an entertaining and mischievous guide: He points out all the places in "Dead Again" where he was able to sneak in Shakespearean references -- including a '40s Life magazine cover of Laurence Olivier as Hamlet. You can take the boy out of the theater, but you can't take the theater out of the boy.

To the next review in the DVD Room

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Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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