These days, Kenneth Branagh is best known for his recent roles in massive blockbuster films, including Tenet, Death on the Nile, and Oppenheimer. The legendary British actor and filmmaker even holds a minor cameo appearance in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War for voicing the Asgardian distress call, which alerts Thor and company to the presence of Thanos at the end of the film. However, long before he was a famous mustached detective, Branagh helmed some of the best historical fiction and supernatural thrillers of his time, such as 1991’s Dead Again, which is currently available to stream on Paramount+.
Kenneth Branagh is known now as Hercule Poirot, but in Dead Again, he was trying to solve a very different type of crime.
Kenneth Branagh serves as the top-billed actor in Dead Again as well as helming the film as its director. The movie was written by Minority Report and Logan screenwriter Scott Frank, who would also go on to create the hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. The award-winning music for the film was composed by legendary Hollywood composer Patrick Doyle, who would go on to score such films as Carlito’s Way, Donny Brasco, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Thor, and The Emoji Movie.
Dead Again stars Kenneth Branagh alongside Emma Thompson, Andy Garcia, Lois Hall, Richard Easton, Jo Anderson, Patrick MontesDeOca, Breaking Bad‘s Raymond Cruz, and legendary comedian and actor Robin Williams. The film was a joint production between international studios located in both England and the United States and was shot entirely in color, even though many of the scenes in the final cut appear in black and white.
According to Branagh’s commentary on the film’s DVD release, this was a stylistic choice to differentiate the past from the present in order to create a clear boundary between the film’s many flashbacks and the modern day.
Dead Again centers on a murder mystery surrounding the suspicious death of Margaret Strauss, who was stabbed to death during a robbery. Her husband, Kenneth Branagh’s Roman Strauss, is convicted of the crime and executed by the state, but not before he manages to whisper something in secret to a newspaper reporter who is in attendance. Though many inquire the reporter, Andy Garcia’s Gray Baker, to disclose Roman’s final words, he refuses to do so, leaving the mystery unanswered.
Skipping forward nearly 50 years into the future, Kenneth Branagh takes on a duel role as private detective Mike Church, an investigator hot on the heels of a young woman with amnesia. In an effort to help her regain her memory and return her to her family, Church brings the woman to a hypnotist and asks his friend to publish her photo and contact information in the local paper.
Dead Again was a success for Kenneth Branagh, earning $38 million at the box office and cementing his reputation as an actor and director.
With the help of the hypnotist, the gang enters into a past-life regression within the young woman’s mind, revealing that Church and the woman are modern reincarnations of Roman and Margaret Strauss, even bearing a striking resemblance to them.
From here, Dead Again becomes an Inception-style mind-bender that jumps back and forth between the half-century time periods that these characters inhabit. As Kenneth Branagh portrays both Mike Church and Roman Strauss, Emma Thompson also portrays a dual role as Margaret Strauss and the amnesiac woman, whose real name is Amanda Sharp.
Through further sessions with the hypnotist probing her mind, the gang is able to determine exactly what occurred in the final days of the Strauss family, with several twists and turns that bring the deceitful nature of the couple to light.
Kenneth Branagh employed the use of color for audiences to tell the difference between scenes set in the past and those in the present.
The film was a massive success with critics and audiences, as well as at the box office, taking in a worldwide gross of over $38 million against an estimated production budget of only $15 million. Kenneth Branagh was hailed for his stylistic and nuanced direction, utilizing many highly complex shots to create a powerful visual language within the film. Dead Again maintains an excellent 80 percent critical score on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, highlighting the film’s resonance over 30 years after its release.
Dead Again received some award nominations for both the on-screen performances and behind-the-scenes technical work, including many BAFTAs and Golden Globes. If you’re a fan of mind-bending mysteries and high-intensity thrillers, be sure to stream Kenneth Branagh’s 1991 masterpiece today. Dead Again is available to watch on Paramount+.