1991's Dead Again is a movie you might want to watch twice, the second time to catch and appreciate the clues you missed the first time through. The film begins in black and white, with an enigmatic man on the eve of his execution, and newpaper clippings that tell us he was a famous composer and conductor, convicted of the brutal murder of his wife. And then we join the present, where a terrified woman screams herself awake from a nightmare.
Who is "Grace"?
The woman (Emma Thompson) has shown up at a Los Angeles convent, mute and amnesiac. She wakes up screaming every night. The nuns are at their wits' end. Father Timothy (Richard Easton) calls in a favor and passes on the problem woman to Mike Church (Kenneth Branaugh).
Mike, an orphan raised by the nuns, is now a private detective. He specializes in finding missing persons, so helping a found woman find her missing life ought to be right up his alley.
He names the mystery woman "Grace" because he has to call her something. Finding her identity turns out to be unexpectedly difficult. Grace soon recovers her voice but not her memory. The newspaper "Do You Know This Woman?" ad does not produce the appearance of grateful relatives.
And Mike and Grace become attracted to one another. Romance is a chancy business when you don't even know whether or not one of you is married!
Hypnotized into the Past
What the ad does produce is Franklyn Madison (Derek Jacobi), antique dealer and hypnotist, who offers to hypnotize Grace to regain her lost memory.
Initially skeptical, Mike and Grace decide to give it a try. But the outcome is unexpected. Rather than describe the events of last month or last year, Grace starts talking about 1948, a time obviously well before she was born.
Mike wants to give up the session in disgust; it seems obviously bogus to him. But Madison explains that this happens sometimes, the person under hypnosis regresses to a previous life. It appears that it is the previous life that is troubling Grace, and Madison urges them to continue.
Dead Again: A Past Romance
As Grace describes what she recalls from 1948, the scene turns to the past in black and white, to the romance of composer Roman Strauss (also played by Branaugh) and his pianist wife Margaret (also played by Thompson).
Roman and Margaret were deeply in love, so it is a mystery to this day - why did he murder her?
Solving the Dead Again mystery becomes crucial when evidence seems to indicate that not only is Grace the reincarnation of Margaret, but Mike might be the reincarnation of Roman! And since no one knows why Roman killed Margaret, who's to say he won't do it again?
Distrust has now come between Mike and Grace, and Mike has to know if Roman really killed Margaret. Grace's present day identity is uncovered; turns out she's an artist. She returns to her home and shuts out Mike, fearful that he might kill her.
Mike seeks out elderly Gray Baker (Andy Garcia), the reporter who knew the Strausses, had a bit of a thing for Margaret, and covered the trial and execution. Mike is almost sure that Roman didn't kill Margaret, but if not Roman, then who?
Dead Again was directed by Kenneth Branagh and written by Scott Frank.