FEATURE KENNETH BRANAGH
ust over a year ago, Kenneth Branagh was on the eve of the latest and possibly most audacious move of his eventful 29-year-old life. With one ominously-titled autobiography (Beginning), two Oscar nominations (as Best Director and Best Actor for Henry V). an established stage career and the formation of his own theatre company all behind him, some might have thought that this thespian Alexander had no worlds left to conquer. Then came a transatlantic clarion call, and it was time for one of Ireland’s favoured sons to make his attack on that Hollywood breach filled with so many English dead. The bait was the offer to direct and star in Dead Again. a $15 million movie for studio giant Paramount. It wasn’t mere cockiness following the Oscar bash that persuaded him to go — ‘It wouldn‘t have mattered to me ifl had been nominated along with Carry on Camping and Confessions of a Window Cleaner,‘ he told me at the time (and what does that say about cinematic inﬂuences?) — but the sheer enjoyment of reading the script of Scott Frank’s admittedly preposterous reincarnation thriller. While it was obviously a welcome relief from the succession of battle-laden films, Shakespeare films and battle-laden
Shakespeare films that had made up the bulk of his post-Henry mail, Dead Again also gave him the chance to relive boyhood fantasies by playing the cynical LA private detective who had been his television saviour on wet Saturday afternoons in Belfast.
‘I’ve watched many more American movies than I’ve ever seen classic plays in the theatre,‘ admits the man that some stubbornly label ‘the new Olivier'. “Every actor wants to be different in each part, wants the chance to be the mad German person in the one bit ofthe film and the Yank in the other, so I went at it with relish. The Americans don't know who I am . and they don‘t know who Emma [Thompson, wife and co-star] is, so in our case they saw these two unknown American actors, and in all the preview tests, the accent was never an issue. It‘ll probably be an issue over here, but it’s never been one in America, where they should know.‘
In fact, Branagh‘s Californian drawl is likely to be only one ofmany ingredients in the latest feast of Branagh bashing. Add to this the fact that he cast his wife as the ‘beautiful, enigmatic woman', that he passes offobvious Hitchcock and Welles techniques ‘homage‘ and that the names of Robin Williams and Andy Garcia appear
Having defeated the French army on the blood-stained fields of Agincourt in Henry V, KENNETH BRANAGH next took on the Hollywood studio system. Alan Morrison discovers
a man as much at home in a Hitchcockian thriller as on the Shakespearian stage.
below the phrase ‘A Kenneth Branagh Film’, then it would seem that he is only adding fuel to his detractors‘ fire. And indeed, the film met with open laughter at its first London press screening. But balance all that with glowing reviews from American critics and strong word-of—mouth from US audiences — both ofwhich combined to create a box office take of $30 million in its first four weeks — and maybe it’s possible to view the movie in terms beyond the jealous nibs of many a British journalist’s pen.
One ofthe problems even for liberally minded cinema-goers will be the plot. A seemingly straightforward case of amnesia becomes a reincarnation murder mystery when private eye Mike Church agrees to look into the case of a young woman who has lost her memory. Under hypnosis, she reveals that her life — and Church‘s — are in some way linked to that ofexecutcd German
composer Roman Strauss and his wife
Margaret who was murdered in 1948. Amidst twists and turns, not to mention the odd McGuffin or two. the past returns to haunt them as a kind of karmic playback. ‘What it seems to represent. for enough people anyway, is a good old yarn, a good old-fashioned thriller that you either go with or you don't,‘ is Branagh's bottom line. ‘Some of the plots of the Hitchcock films are
10 The List 25 October- 7 November 1991 -