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Love and reincarnation, Kenneth Branagh style

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: It’s Love Week at the A.V. Club, so we’ve followed our hearts and lined up a slate of unconventional love stories.


Dead Again (1991)

Before he decamped for Asgard, Kenneth Branagh was considered one of the most promising directors of his generation. At a time when so many U.K. auteurs were dutifully practicing kitchen-sink realism under the sign of Mike Leigh, the Shakespeare-trained Irishman was developing an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to moviemaking. Exhibit A: Dead Again, a wonderfully florid exercise in style right down to its chronological color-coding.

In the scenes set in present-tense Los Angeles, Branagh plays a private eye named Mike Church (apparently the surname “Hammer” was taken) who is trying to unravel the backstory of a beautiful mute woman named Grace (Emma Thompson) who suffers from terrible nightmares. In the black-and-white flashbacks to the ’40s, he’s Roman Strauss, an imperious composer accused of butchering his wife Margaret (Thompson, again). Throwing caution to the winds, Branagh is basically attempting to mount two different types of thriller at the same time: a gleaming ’40s potboiler and the sun-blind ’90s neo-noir. And if it feels at times like an incestuous shotgun wedding, the slow-burning relationship between Mike and Grace (who gradually gains the ability to speak) is giddily romantic.

Branagh and Thompson were married at the time of filming, and they clearly only have eyes for each other—even when their lids are fluttering under the spell of an eccentric old hypnotist (Derek Jacobi, who cleans his teeth with the scenery and even gets a triumphant callback to his signature role on I, Claudius). The script’s most ingenious conceit is that while Mike and Grace are indeed the spitting images of Roman and Margaret, they’ve been reincarnated in the wrong bodies—a potentially ridiculous twist that Branagh handles with the same aplomb as set pieces involving anklets and scissors. Mike and Grace are in love with each other, but their gender-flipped predicament introduces an oddly endearing note of narcissism to the proceedings—a fitting quality for a movie so obviously infatuated with its own high-flown silliness.


Availability: Dead Again is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix or your local video store/library, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.

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