Born December 10, 1960, in Belfast, Northern Ireland; son of William (a carpenter) and Frances Branagh; married Emma Thompson (an actress), August 20, 1989 (divorced, October, 1997); married Lindsay Antonia Brunnock (an art director), May 24, 2003. Education: Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, graduate, 1981. Religion: Protestant.
Home—Berkshire, England. Agent—Clifford Stevens, STE Representation, 9301 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 312, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, and 888 Seventh Ave., Suite 201, New York, NY 10019.
Actor, director, producer, and writer. Member of Royal Shakespeare Theater, Stratford-on-Avon, England, 1983-85; Renaissance Theater Company, London, England, founder, producer, and director, with David Parfitt, 1987—. Stage appearances include: (debut) Judd, Another Country, London, England, 1982; title role, Henry V, Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), 1983. Laertes, Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-on-Avon, England, then London, 1985; title role (and producer with David Parfitt), Hamlet, Denmark, 1988; Jimmy Porter, Look Back in Anger, London, 1989; Edgar, King Lear, Los Angeles, CA, 1990; a rustic, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Los Angeles, 1990; title role, Coriolanus, Chichester, England, 1992; title role, Hamlet, RSC, 1992; title role, Richard III, Sheffield, England, 2002; title role, Edmund, London, England, 2003; St. Francis of Assisi, St. Francis; Three Sisters; The Golden Girls; and The Madness (one-man show; based on Tennyson's poem, "Maud"). Touring productions include: Laertes, Hamlet, Benedick, Much Ado about Nothing, and Touchstone, As You Like It, all British cities, all 1988. Director of stage productions, including: Twelfth Night, Renaissance Theater Company, 1989; A Midsummer Night's Dream, Los Angeles, 1990; King Lear, Los Angeles, 1990; The Play Wot I Wrote, London, 2001; and The Life of Napoleon, Renaissance Theater Company. Film appearances include: (film debut) Rick, High Season, Hemdale, 1987; James Moon, A Month in the Country, Orion Classics, 1987; title role (and director), Henry V, Renaissance Films/BBC, 1989; Mike Church/Roman Strauss (and director), Dead Again, Paramount, 1991; Andrew (and director and producer), Peter's Friends, Renaissance Films/Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1992; Herr Knöpp (uncredited), Swing Kids, Hollywood Picture, 1993; Benedick (and director and producer), Much Ado about Nothing, Renaissance Films/Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1993; Victor Frankenstein (and director and co-producer), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, American Zoetrope, 1994; Iago, Othello, Columbia Pictures, 1995; title role (and director), Hamlet, Castle Rock Films, 1996; Colonel Evans, The Dance of Shiva (short film), 1998; Father Michael McKinnon, The Proposition, PolyGram, 1998; Rick Magruder, The Gingerbread Man, PolyGram, 1998; Richard, The Theory of Flight, 1998; Lee Simon, Celebrity, 1998; Dr. Arlis Loveless, Wild Wild West, 1999; Berowne (and producer), Love's Labour's Lost, 1999; Peter McGowan, How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog, 2000; A. O. Neville, Rabbit-Proof Fence, 2002; Gilderoy Lockhart, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 2002; Steven Chesterman, Alien Love Triangle, 2002; Uncle Albert, Five Children and It, 2004; and Mission: Impossible 3, 2005. Director of films, including: Swan Song (short film), Renaissance Films, 1992; (and producer) A Midwinter's Tale (also known as In the Bleak Midwinter), Midwinter Films, 1995; Hamlet, 1996; Love's Labour's Lost, 1999; and Listening, 2003. Television appearances include: "A Play for Tomorrow: Easter 2016," The Billy Trilogy (series), BBC, 1982; Charles Tansley, To the Lighthouse (special), 1984; The Ghosts, 1985; "Coming Through," 1987; Thomas Mendip, The Lady's Not for Burning, York-shire Television, 1987; Jack, The Boy in the Bush (series), PBS, 1988; Guy Pringle, "The Fortunes of War" (mini-series), Masterpiece Theater, PBS, 1988; Gordon Evans as an adult, Strange Interlude (special), PBS, 1988; Jimmy Porter, Look Back in Anger, HBO, 1989; Thompson (episodic), 1990; title role, "Discovering Hamlet," PBS, 1990; Donal Davoren, Shadow of a Gunman, BBC, 1995; SS Obergruppen führer Reinhard Heydrick, Conspiracy, HBO/BBC, 2001; and Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, Shackleton, Channel 4/A&E, 2002. Host or narrator of Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Disney, 1990, Symphony for the Spire, 1991, Tales of Gold, BBC, 1992, The Last Show on Earth, Central Independent Television, 1992, Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood, 1995, Anne Frank Remembered, Disney, 1995; The Road to El Dorado, 2000; Big Al Uncovered, 2000; Walking with Prehistoric Beasts/Triumph of the Beasts/The Beasts Within (three-part science special), 2001; The Tramp and the Dictator, 2002; and Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic, 2004. Narrator of audio recordings, including: Cousin Phyllis, Cover to Cover, 1988; Last Enemy, ASV Records and Tapes, 1990; Hamlet, BBC Radio/Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1992; Anthem for Doomed Youth, Random House Audio Books, 1993; Romeo and Juliet, BBC Radio/Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1993; Cider with Rosie, BBC Radio, 1994; As I Walked out One Morning/A Moment of War, BBC Radio, 1994; Long-shot, Harper Audio, 1994; King Lear, BBC Radio/BDD, 1994; Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Simon & Schuster Audio, 1994; Captain and the Enemy, Chivers Audio Books, 1995; and Pepys' Diary, Hodder Headline Audiobooks, 1995.
Bancroft Gold Medal, Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, 1981; Society of West End Theaters (SWET) Award for most promising newcomer, and Plays and Players Award for best newcomer, both 1982, both for Another Country; London Evening Standard Award for best film, European Film Awards for best young filmmaker, best actor, and best director, Chicago Film Critics Award for best foreign film, New York Film Critics Circle Award for best new director, Academy Award nominations for best actor and best director, National Board of Review Award for best director, and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for best achievement in direction, all 1989, all for Henry V; London Evening Standard Peter Sellers Award for comedy, 1992, for Peter's Friends; Academy Award nomination for best short film, 1992, for Swan Song; Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear Award nomination, 1992, for Dead Again; BAFTA Michael Bacon Award for outstanding contribution to cinema, 1993; Cannes Film Festival Golden Palm Award nomination, 1993, and Guild of German Art House Cinemas Foreign Film Award, and London Critics Circle Film Award for Best Producer, both 1994, all for Much Ado about Nothing; Screen Actors Guild nomination for best supporting actor, 1995, for Othello; Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Award, and Boston Film Festival Award for Excellence, both 1995, both for In the Bleak Midwinter; San Diego Film Critics Society Award for best actor, 1996, Academy Award nomination for best screenplay based on material from another medium, 1997, and Evening Standard Special Jury Award, 1998, all for Hamlet; Gielgud Award for services to Shakespeare, 2000; Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, 2001, American Film Institute award nomination for best male actor of the year—movie or miniseries, and Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance, both 2002, and BAFTA Award nomination for best actor, 2003, all for Conspiracy; Emmy Award nomination for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or movie, 2002, and BAFTA Award nomination for best actor, 2003, both for Shackleton; London Critics Circle Film Award for best supporting actor, 2003, for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Evening Standard Theatre Award nomination for best actor, 2003, and Laurence Olivier Theatre Award nomination for best actor, 2004, both for Edmond.
Tell Me Honestly (play), produced by Royal Shakespeare Company, 1985.
Public Enemy (play; produced in London, England, 1987), Faber (London, England), 1988.
(Adapter) William Shakespeare, Henry V (screen-play), BBC/Renaissance Films, 1989, Norton (New York, NY), 1997.
Beginning (autobiography), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1989, Norton (New York, NY), 1990.
(Adapter) William Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing (screenplay), Renaissance Films/Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1993.
A Midwinter's Tale (screenplay; produced by Midwinter Films, 1995), published as In the Bleak Midwinter, Nick Hern Books (London, England), 1995.
(Adapter) William Shakespeare, Hamlet (screenplay), film diary by Russell Jackson, Norton (New York, NY), 1996.
(Adapter) William Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost (screenplay), 1999.
Listening (screenplay), 2003.
Work in Progress
Developing two adaptations of British novels for film; directing and producing As You Like It.
In 1989, with the positive reception accorded his film version of William Shakespeare's Henry V, twenty-eight-year-old Irish-born British thespian Kenneth Branagh became one of the hottest film properties on either side of the Atlantic. Although a new name to American film audiences, Branagh had been a force on the British stage for several years, making his name with the Royal Shakespeare Company before forming his own troupe. In the years since Henry V made him a box-office commodity, Branagh has brought more bardish drama to the silver screen—his productions of Much Ado about Nothing, Othello, and Hamlet have created new generations of Shakespeare afficionados—while also broadening his oeuvre by directing, producing, and appearing in such diverse films as the mystery thriller Dead Again and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Roles in such mainstream fare as The Gingerbread Man and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets have also come Branagh's way, making his return to the London stage in 2003 after an absence of a decade something for many theatregoers to celebrate.
While some critics view Branagh as a heir to Sir Laurence Olivier's theatrical legacy due to his virile performances and his success in making Shakespeare viable fodder for film, he has also taken his share of critical knocks, but has come back fighting. His character might best be defined by a comment he made to fellow actor Laurence Fishburne while filming Othello. Fishburne, as quoted by Mark Huismaninan Advocate interview with Branagh, was worrying about a particular speech that he could not master, wondering if he should just cut it. Branagh, by way of encouragement, turned to him and said, "'Look man, I'm a pug Irish kid from Belfast, and I'm not supposed to do this stuff either.'" The recipient of numerous awards, in 2000 this "pug Irish kid from Belfast" became the youngest actor to receive the coveted Gielgud Award for his service to Shakespeare. As Alastair Macaulay wrote in the Financial Times more than two decades into the actor's career, Branagh is "a winningly direct stage performer, remarkably unaffected, capable of high energy or simple stillness or, in speech, dazzling speed. In ensemble, he responds beautifully to other players, and galvanizes them by his absorption. And his timing is terrific."
Branagh is well trained at doing things from which his background is supposed to disqualify him. Born in Belfast in 1960, he was raised in a lower-middle-class family with grandparents on both sides having worked on the docks. Branagh's father was a joiner and all-round handy man before the family left violence-riven Ulster in 1969 for Reading, England, forty miles from London. According to Billington, the move was "traumatic and troubling" for Branagh, who was an outcast at school due to his Irish accent. "Then your accent changes," Branagh told Billington, "and you feel guilty about this, as if you were betraying your roots." In early adolescence, Branagh, a bit of a social outsider, found solace in books and movies. A set of theater magazines introduced him to the great tradition of the stage in England, especially of Olivier's National Theater. Soon he found a place in school by participating in rugby and soccer, becoming captain of both, "more, I suspect, for my innate sense of drama—I loved shouting theatrically [tough-guy] . . . encouragement to 'my lads'—than for any real sporting skill," Branagh wrote in his autobiography, Beginning.
Increasingly, however, he found his real passion lay with the theater and movies. As a young boy he was deeply impressed by The Birdman of Alcatraz: "No one appeared to be acting," Branagh noted in Beginning. The first play he saw was a production of A Christmas Carol, and it was "magic" for him, as he recalled in his autobiography. At Reading, he began taking parts in school plays and even wrote a short play for a festival. He was fifteen when he first hitchhiked to Stratford, pitching his tent and attending as many of the plays of the Royal Shakespeare Company as he could. He was particularly impressed by Derek Jacobi's performance in Hamlet. By the age of sixteen, Branagh was set on a career in acting, much to the dismay of his parents. Ironically, however, Branagh was in part inspired to acting by his parents, for he grew up in an oral tradition where "crack" or good conversation was a primary means of entertainment. "They had a natural sense of pace," Branagh told Smith in New York magazine. "When to pause, little rhetorical flourishes. They were fireside actors."
Though his school work suffered because of his interest in theater, in 1978 Branagh won an audition to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Impressed with his technical control, the Academy accepted him, and Branagh won a scholarship from his local county council to help with tuition. At the Royal Academy Branagh lost his amateur habits of presenting a role and instead let the part play him. He proved an adept student. "We knew straightaway that Ken was first division," fellow actor John Sessions told Howell in Vogue. Branagh had early contact with some of his idols: in 1981 he wrote to Sir Laurence Olivier asking for tips on how to play Chekhov's Three Sisters—"Have a bash at it and hope for the best," was Olivier's reply, as Branagh recounted in Beginning. Also, Sir John Gielgud, then Academy president, was impressed by a Branagh rehearsal for Hamlet, a role the fledgling actor subsequently performed for the royal family.
The year 1981 proved to be a turning point for Branagh: not only did he win a major role in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) production set in Belfast, but he also landed a part in the play Another Country and became the recipient of the Royal Academy's Bancroft Gold Medal for outstanding student of the year. With the airing of the BBC play Too Late to Talk to Billy, Branagh's parents finally realized that their son was indeed an actor. Other roles followed: the lead in Francis, a play about St. Francis of Assisi, and a one-man show, The Madness, based on Tennyson's poem Maud. Then came a Society of West End Theaters Award for best newcomer for his role in Another Country, and Branagh was on his way. The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) cast him in the title role of Henry V, "the most auspicious Stratford debut since Richard Burton's," according to Billington in Interview. Preparing for that role, Branagh had an audience with Prince Charles in order to get the feel of royalty for his part. The interview went well, and Prince Charles became an important patron for Branagh.
Increasingly, however, Branagh felt disillusioned with his position with the RSC. His play Tell Me Honestly deals in part with these frustrations, but he had larger things in mind: starting his own company. His dream was to recreate the old spirit of an actors' theater with its camaraderie intact, one that could take Shakespeare back to its roots. A fellow actor who had performed with him in Another Country, David Parfitt, was also interested in the concept. While funding was an obstacle, Branagh put himself into the marketplace, acting in movies, including High Season and A Month in the Country, and in television productions, including an adaptation of the novel Fortunes of War, during the production of which he met his future wife, actress Emma Thompson. From such work he was able to save $60,000, and with a little help from friends such as Prince Charles and Derek Jacobi, Branagh launched the Renaissance Theater Company (RTC). The company's first play, Public Enemy, about a Northern Irish youngster who is fixated on Jimmy Cagney, not only starred Branagh but was written by him as well. With the second production, Twelfth Night, the company came into its own, and Shakespeare productions directed by Jacobi and Judi Dench, as well as a production of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, soon made the RTC a respected company not only in London but also in the United States when they toured there.
While Branagh worked as an innovative actor, administrator, director, and front man for the RTC, he still found time for other projects, including his long-held dream of filming Henry V. Renaissance Films was created to produce the film and Branagh personally helped to raise the money for filming. Assembling a cast of renowned actors including Paul Scofield, Jacobi, and Thompson, Branagh produced a film that was praised by critics and was popular at the box office. The film received special praise for its vivid recreation of the 1415 battle of Agincourt in which a vastly outnumbered English army under Henry V defeated the French, making Henry the leading king in Europe. Hal Hinson, writing in the Washington Post, noted both Branagh's "brash and flamboyant" acting style and "forthright and articulate" directing skills, and concluded that Branagh "has made a Henry V for his time, and a masterful one." Peter Travers, reviewing Henry V for Rolling Stone, noted that the "film is more than a promising first try: It's thrilling." Writing in the New York Times, Nicholas Wade compared Branagh's film interpretation of Shakespeare's play with Olivier's 1944 version and concluded that Branagh has created a "peerless rendition." Stanley Kauffmann, writing in the New Republic, also drew comparisons between Branagh and Olivier, concluding that while Branagh "is not yet near Olivier as a classical actor . . . director, as artistic entrepreneur, as sheer charge of filmworld energy, he has won his own Agincourt."
Although Henry V put Branagh on the celebrity map, it was not all an easy ride to fame. "My real 'God, what am I doing?' happened four or five days before shooting," Branagh told Michael Billington in Interview magazine. Unsure of what was expected of him in his directorial debut, Branagh called for a test and met the crew for the first time, "shaking with fear," as he told Billington. As both actor and director, Branagh had a stand-in to set up his shots as Henry, and this man was seated upon the throne for one of the major speeches of the play. All was ready for the test filming, yet the crew just stood there. "I was looking round and felt things weren't happening as they should and that people were starting to look at me. Then the assistant director whispered in my ear, 'You've got to say "Action,"' and I realized I'd made the classic . . . gaffe on day one." The final validation of his efforts to take the bard to the masses came when he was shopping on Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive shortly after Hamlet's release. A salesperson initially ignored him to deal with a television celebrity, Branagh related to Howell in Vogue, but when the clerk finally took a look at Branagh, he threw up his hands: "'Oh, my God! Oh, my God! I know you, don't I? You're famous, aren't you? You're the one who played Henry VIII!'"
Branagh has never been one to stop and savor success for long; even during the filming of Henry V he was busy late at night writing his autobiography, Beginning, in order to help finance new quarters for the RTC. Richard Christiansen, reviewing the memoir for the Chicago Tribune, commented that "perhaps because he is so close in time to all the events he describes, Branagh's book has an immediacy not always present in autobiographies." Christiansen went on to describe passages of the book as "quite moving." Meanwhile, Branagh was busy creating his own history. He and Thompson were married in the fall of 1989, a storybook wedding costing upwards of $50,000, fireworks and all.
Branagh's next film project was Dead Again, a tip of the hat to mystery films of the 1940s. The film focuses on Mike Church, a modern-day Los Angeles detective who assists a beautiful amnesia victim who is tormented by nightmares. An antiques dealer helps to convince Church that the source of the nightmares is another person's life experience: the murder of a famous pianist by her composer husband in 1948. Branagh directed the movie and played the dual roles of the detective and composer, while Thompson played dual female roles and Jacobi took the part of the antiques dealer. Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times called the result a "giddy whirling dervish of a movie," and Vincent Canby in the New York Times dubbed Dead Again a "big, convoluted, entertainingly dizzy romantic mystery melodrama." While filming Dead Again, Branagh was also directing the RTC company in performances in Los Angeles; while he became known for this sort of artistic juggling act, it was to take its toll.
The 1992 film Peter's Friends, reminiscent of The Big Chill, was lighter fare for Branagh: a group of college chums, gathered at the newly inherited country house of classmate Peter, take stock of the intervening years. Described as "sunny and superficial" by Janet Maslin in the New York Times, the Branagh-directed film strikes a grave note when it is revealed Peter has been diagnosed with AIDS. Terrence Rafferty, however, reviewing the movie in the New Yorker, found little to like in it: "You cower in your seat," Rafferty wrote, "steeling yourself against the next grisly bit of repartee" in a film inhabited by "arrogant, self-absorbed poseurs." Despite Rafferty's reaction, Peter's Friends was a box-office success and established Branagh's credentials in Hollywood.
Back to Shakespeare
Branagh returned to celluloid Shakespeare with his much-praised adaptation of Much Ado about Nothing, a play about love and the battle between the sexes set against a backdrop of misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and pithy dialogue. Caryn James, reviewing the film adaptation for the New York Times, noted that Branagh's "is a glorious version of Shakespeare, and it works not because it is Shakespearean but because it is cinematic." "Branagh's production is handsome, brainy, purposefully bustling, securely paced, [and] well-attuned to Shakespeare's unblinkered view of humanity," enthused Commonweal contributor Richard Alleva. Dave Kehr, in the Chicago Tribune, described the movie as "sunny and brightly performed" despite the fact that almost half the original dialogue was removed in the adaptation. Kenneth Turan, writing in the Los Angeles Times, called Branagh's adaptation a "rollicking version," but his opinion was not shared universally by critics. Hal Hinson, appraising Much Ado about Nothing for the Washington Post, maintained that Branagh does not connect with his material as he did in Henry V, and adding that the actor/director demonstrates "how, in the wrong hands, even Shakespeare can be trivialized and reduced to chatter." Hinson concluded that "we had every reason to expect more from Branagh than Shakespeare dumbed down for the masses."
Branagh's first resounding critical flop was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which he not only directed but also starred in as Victor Frankenstein, creator of the legendary monster. The big-budget film sported a star-packed cast, but many reviewers agreed with Janet Maslin in the New York Times that Branagh was "in over his head" with the material. "He displays neither the technical finesse to handle a big, visually ambitious film nor the insight to develop a stirring new version of the story," Maslin noted. James Wolcott, writing in the New Yorker, added a further sour note, dubbing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein a "frantic, incoherent, pointless mess." Though the film did earn back the money invested in it, the critical reception stung Branagh. "I made the film exactly as I wanted and that makes it worse," Branagh told Laurie Werner in a Chicago Tribune interview. "Because you realize that you've put your heart and soul into something that in the end most people thought wasn't very good."
In the midst of the disappointment following Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the Branagh-Thompson marriage began to flounder, and ultimately ended in divorce in 1997. The strains of two separate careers finally were too much. "The end of a marriage is just incredibly sad—deeply, deeply sad," Branagh told Werner. Thompson continued with her film career, turning in acclaimed and award-winning performances in the films Remains of the Day and Howard's End, and also assuming behind-the scenes responsibilities.
Like his ex-wife, Branagh also did not allow personal setbacks stall his career. Taking a hiatus from directing, he performed the role of the villain Iago in the 1995 movie version of Othello, where his "terrific skill as a popularizer is a boon," according to Janet Maslin in a New York Times review. Maslin also commented that Branagh has the "rare ability to deliver Shakespearean dialogue as if it were street talk." Meanwhile Branagh was also writing and directing A Midwinter's Tale, a comedy about a bumbling theater company trying to mount a production of Hamlet in a small village over the Christmas holidays. "My original intent was to make a film about an actor at that moment of crisis where he questions what he's doing and why," Branagh told Terry Lawson in a Detroit Free Press interview. Shot in black and white, the movie was something of an antidote to the big-production fanfare of previous films. Although New Yorker contributor James Wolcott felt that Branagh's attempt at Woody Allen failed—"the characterizations . . . aren't fresh," he noted—Lawson found A Midwinter's Tale to be a "warm" comedy. The film won a gold medal at the Venice Film Festival.
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Branagh's next project was perhaps his most ambitious: a full-length film version of Hamlet with a cast including Branagh in the title role alongside Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Gerard Depardieu, Kate Winslet, John Gielgud, Jack Lemmon, Billy Crystal, and Robin Williams. The $18 million, four-hour-long film, described by Time's Richard Corliss as "big and pretty, vigorous, thoughtful," was a labor of love for its director, who has performed the role of Hamlet some three hundred times onstage. The play is set in a Hapbsburgian nineteenth century, where militaristic flourishes are everywhere, although classical allusions and a level of intrigue reminiscent of sixteenth-century court life imbue Hamlet with a mythic quality.
Calling the uncut Hamlet "a jungle of a play," Commonweal contributor Alleva wrote that Branagh's "magificent, foolhardy movie" retains all the Bard's "narrative detours, playful elaborations, obscure allusions, blatant and subtle jokes, topical gossip." To balance the resulting "tedium" experienced by the modern viewer, the actor/director has "turned the Dane into a bit of a speed freak." Although Alleva found some problems with this approach, on the whole he ranked Branagh's Hamlet as "the most jawdropping" film adaptation of any of Shakespeare's works, with Prince Hamlet resonating a compelling character who is "mettlesome, high-pitched nature [is] sent zig-zagging out of control by the fury coursing within him." In Entertainment Weekly Mike D'Angelo agreed, noting that while Branagh's production is "wildly inconsistent" and "marred by miscalculations so drastic that you'll sometimes find yourself questioning the director's sanity along with the Dane's . . . . There are twice as many moments of startling power." Although Hamlet did not fare well enough at the box office to recoup its costs, it did return Branagh's efforts in a slew of awards and the fact that the name Shakespeare was once again bandied about in the media.
From his by-the-book Hamlet, Branagh's next flirtation with the Bard was more playful. In 1999 he filmed Love's Labour's Lost as a lushly costumed musical studded with songs by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, and Irving Berlin, and casting the talents of Alicia Silverston, Nathan Lane, Matthew Lillard, and Alessandro Nivolo. "It's hard not to admire the missionary zeal with which Branagh approaches his muse," quipped Dallas Morning News reporter Chris Vognar reviewing the film, noting that the actor/director "knows the Shakespearean tradition of taking risks with the material." Taking risks, as usual for Branagh, translated into mixed reviews: while some critics praised the spirit of the film, others, such as Time contributor Richard Corliss, were less charitable. "It's time to wonder what happened to the Great Hope of the British Theatre," Corliss bemoaned, dismissing Love's Labour's Lost as "Shakespeare done by the Fame kids." "So excited is the filmmaker to exhibit all his bright notions and riffs and homages to Shakespeare and musicals and classic Hollywood . . . that each player ends up performing a different play," added Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly. In contrast, Quadrant reviewer Neil McDonald maintained that the allsinging, all-dancing approach "all works splendidly," and that Branagh's decision to set the play in the days leading up to the outbreak of World War II prevents the serious denouement from jarring audiences.
Teaming with Woody Allen Ends on Thin Ice
Shakespearean productions continued to be offset by more modern fare, as Branagh balanced Hamlet with a performance as a semi-sleazy Savannah lawyer in the Robert Altman-directed Gingerbread Man and as the lead neurotic in Woody Allen's 1998 film, Celebrity. While some bemoaned the fact that he was "going Hollywood"—particularly after Branagh turned up in the roundly panned, big-budget Wild Wild West opposite Will Smith and Kevin Kline—Lesley O'Toole offered relief by observing in the London Times that the actor/director's intention was to broaden "his appeal to American audiences" in order to "facilitate that all-important financing of the less overtly commercial projects he really wants to make."
The 1990s proved to be a difficult decade for Branagh; several outstanding performances and his risky but rewarding production of Hamlet were balanced by several bad acting choices, his divorce from Thompson, and a failed five-year relationship with actress Helena Bonham Carter. However, the resilience that fueled his early career was still there, and would recharge his personal life a few years later when he met the woman who would become his second wife on a film set. Remarking on his 2001 return to West End theatre as a director of the comedy The Play Wot I Wrote, Jay Rayner noted in the London Observer: "Branagh has turned his back on the Machiavellian power games of Hollywood, which clearly intoxicated him for much of the Nineties, and returned to first principles. It has served him well."
In 2002 the actor found himself in Greenland and Iceland during the filming of the miniseries Shackleton for Channel 4 television and the Arts & Entertainment cable network. Praised by Hollywood Reporter reviewer Ray Richmond as "One of the greatest projects ever mounted by A & E," the production follows the efforts of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton to cross Antarctica and reach the South Pole in 1914. Aboard his ship the Endurance were twenty-seven men and sixty-nine sled dogs when the expedition set sail in October of 1914; ten months later, prevented by ice and sub-zero temperatures from accomplishing their goal, the expedition was rescued with no men lost. While noting the excellence of the production, Richmond nontheless maintained that Shackleton "is Branagh's movie. He is a controlled, captivating, charismatic force of nature in . . . a film that leaves us feeling an unapologetic measure of awe." At year's end Branagh had garnered two well-deserved British Academy award nominations for best actor: one for Shackleton and one for his chilling, Emmy-winning performance as Nazi SS Officer Reinhard Heydrick in the 2001 HBO/BBC film Conspiracy, which is about the secret conference held outside Berlin in 1942, wherein the methodical extermination of European Jews that would later be known as the Holocaust was planned out in minute detail.
Other roles found Branagh wearing a variety of more modern hats, as he continued to take on commercially viable projects in order to fund those closer to his heart. He impressed audiences in his role as Gilderoy Lockhart in the 2003 film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and also captured critical acclaim for his role in Michael Kalesniko's 2002 film, How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog. Playing a once-cutting edge playwright who is now fighting his wife's efforts to have a baby while undergoing a mid-life crisis, Branagh "grounds even the softest moments in the angry revolt of his wit," according to Entertainment Weekly contributor Owen Gleiberman in a review of Kalesniko's film.
A Long-awaited Return to Stage
In 2002 Branagh returned to both Shakespeare and the stage when he accepted the plum role of Richard III in a production at Sheffield, England's Crucible Theatre. The sold-out show, which marked the actor's first time on stage since playing Hamlet for a 1992 RSC production, drew patrons from as far away as Japan and the United States, all of whom crowded into a small theatre known for hosting snooker tournaments. Branagh's decision to return to theatre was inspired by a talk with the Crucible's up-and-coming artistic directer, Michael Grandage, as well as by witnessing a Grandage-directed performance by fellow stage and screen actor Joseph Fiennes in Marlowe's Edward II the year before. Enthused by the youthful Grandage's vision, as well as by the young audiences Fiennes was able to attract, Branagh saw the role of Shakespeare's most beloved villain as yet another way to bring Shakespeare to new audiences.
If you enjoy the works of Kenneth Branagh
If you enjoy the works of Kenneth Branagh, you might want to check out the following films:
Mel Gibson in Hamlet, 1991.
Anthony Hopkins in Titus, 2000.
Ian McKellen in Richard III, 2000.
Laurence Olivier in Richard III, 1956.
Following their two-year relationship, Branagh wed art director Lindsay Brunnock in the spring of 2003, and wags claimed that the marriage marked a sea change in his outlook. Whatever the cause, entering his mid-forties Branagh indeed seemed to be coming full circle in a career that promised much in its maturity. In the early summer of 2003 he took to the boards of London's National Theatre as the title character of David Mamet's Edmond, where his bravura performance impressed critics. As Ray Bennett noted in a Hollywood Reporter review, Branagh "bites into the prose and spits it out as poetry with his extraordinary ability to utter every phrase and fragment as if they were fresh born and not from a writer's page. Onstage . . . Branagh is fearless." Still, he seemed wont to let go of his hold on Hollywood audiences; in the news during the spring of 2004 was the report that he would join Tom Cruise and Matrix star Carrie-Ann Moss in the third of Cruise's Mission: Impossible films. With plans for several more screen adaptations of Shakespearean dramas up his sleeve, Branagh will likely continue the creative balancing act that has propelled his career thus far.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Bernard, Jami, First Films, Citadel Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Branagh, Kenneth, Beginning, Norton (New York, NY), 1990.
Contemporary Theater, Film, and Television, Volume 9, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992, pp. 46-47.
Crowl, Samuel, Shakespeare at the Cineplex: The Kenneth Branagh Era, Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 2003.
Davies, Anthony, and Stanley Wells, editors, Shakespeare and the Moving Image, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Parsons, Keith, and Pamela Mason, Shakespeare in Performance, Salamander Books, 1995.
Shuttleworth, Ian, Ken and Em: A Biography, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Advocate, February 20, 1996, Mark Huisman, "Prince of Players," pp. 43-49.
Chicago Tribune, May 20, 1990, Richard Christiansen, review of Beginning, p. 5; May 21, 1993, Dave Kehr, "Shakespeare by Numbers," p. C29; December 24, 1995, Laurie Werner, "Villainy as Therapy," section 7, p. 7; May 17, 2001, Michael Kilian, "Evil Holds a Fateful Meeting in Film about Nazi Conference."
Cineaste, winter, 1998, Gary Crowdus, interview with Branagh, p. 34.
Commonweal, June 18, 1993, Richard Alleva, review of Much Ado about Nothing, p. 23; March 28, 1997, Richard Alleva, review of Hamlet, p. 18; .
Dallas Morning News, June 22, 20002, Chris Vognar, "Kenneth Branagh Shows Us Shakespeare's Fun Side."
Detroit Free Press, February 26, 1996, Terry Lawson, "Branagh Takes a Break behind the Camera," pp. E1, E3.
Entertainment Weekly, July 25, 1997, Mike D'Angelo, "No Pain, No Dane," p. 76; June 9, 2000, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Love's Labour's Lost, p. 50; February 22, 2002, Owen Gleiberman, review of How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog, p. 119.
Evening Standard (London, England), March 19, 2002, "Branagh's Stage Return Sparks Sell-out"; February 19, 2003, Luke Keitch, "Branagh Returns to Stage after 11-Year Absence."
Financial Times, March 23, 2002, Alastair Macaulay, "Branagh's Richard Stands Tall," p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter, April 5, 2002, Ray Richmond, review of Shackleton, p. 10; July 22, 2003, Ray Bennett, review of Edmond, p. 20.
Interview, October, 1989, Michael Billington, "Formidable Force," pp. 95, 134, 136.
Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1991, Kenneth Turan, "Branagh's Lively High-Wire Act," pp. F1, F6; May 14, 1993, Kenneth Turan, "Star-powered Lovers in 'Ado,'" pp. F1, F15.
New Republic, December 4, 1989, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Henry V, p. 28.
New York, May 24, 1993, Dinitia Smith, "Much Ado about Branagh," pp. 36-45.
New Yorker, February 8, 1993, Terrence Rafferty, review of Peter's Friends, p. 103; February 12, 1996, James Wolcott, review of A Midwinter's Tale, pp. 84-85.
New York Times, February 6, 1990, Nicholas Wade, "Henry V vs. Henry V," p. A28; August 23, 1992, Vincent Canby, "Branagh's Dead Again Homage to 40s Fiction," pp. C1, C11; May 16, 1993, Caryn James, "Why Branagh's Bard Glows on the Screen," p. 17. December 25, 1992, Janet Maslin, "Conflicts and Laughs at English Reunion," p. B4; November 4, 1994, Janet Maslin, "A Brain on Ice, a Dead Toad, and Voila," p. C1; November 13, 1994, section 2, p. 1; December 14, 1995, Janet Maslin, "Fishburne and Branagh Meet Their Fate in Venice," pp. C11, C20; November 15, 1998, Sean Mitchell, "A Not-So Proper Kenneth Branagh Has Some Fun."
Observer (London, England), November 11, 2001, Jay Rayner, "Is Nothing beyond Our Ken?"; July 20, 2003, Kate Kellaway, "So Good at Being So Bad."
Premiere, September, 1991, p. 74.
Publishers Weekly, March 23, 1990, p. 69.
Quadrant, April, 2002, Neil McDonald, "Branagh's Labour's Lost," p. 56.
Rolling Stone, November 29, 1990, Peter Travers, review of Henry V, p. 122.
TDR, summer, 1997, Paul Meier, "Kenneth Branagh: With Utter Clarity" (interview), p. 82.
Time, January 13, 1997, Richard Corliss, "The Whole Dane Thing"; April 8, 2002, James Poniewozik, review of Shackleton, p. 73.
Times, July 17, 1998, Lesley O'Toole, "Staking a Claim in the Wild West."
Times Literary Supplement, October 20, 1989, p. 1151.
Vogue, September, 1991, Georgina Howell, "Renaissance Man," pp. 524-527.
Wall Street Journal, November 10, 1994, p. A14.
Washington Post, December 15, 1989, Hal Hinson, "The Heart of Henry V," pp. D1, D9; May 21, 1993, Hal Hinson, "Nothing Much about 'Ado,'" p. B7.*
Nationality: British. Born: Belfast, Northern Ireland, 10 December 1960; family moved to Reading, England, 1969. Education: Meadway Comprehensive School, Reading; Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, graduated 1982. Family: Married actress Emma Thompson, 1989 (divorced, 1996). Career: Actor on the West End stage and on television, beginning 1982; early stage successes included Another Country, 1982, and Francis (as St. Francis of Assisi), 1984, both plays written by Julian Mitchell; joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, 1983, and at twenty-three became the youngest actor ever to play the title role in Shakespeare's Henry V; also appeared in the RSC's Hamlet (as Laertes) and Love's Labour's Lost (as the King of Navarre), playing the three roles in repertory in Stratford and London, 1984–85; wrote and directed play Tell Me Honestly, 1985; left RSC to produce and direct Romeo and Juliet, 1986 (in which he also starred); with actor David Parfitt, created the Renaissance Theatre Company, 1987; Renaissance productions in which Branagh played a prominent role included: Public Enemy (also written by Branagh); Twelfth Night (directed by Branagh; also televised), 1987; Hamlet (as Hamlet, directed by Derek Jacobi); As You Like It (as Touchstone, directed by Geraldine McEwan); Much Ado about Nothing (as Benedick, directed by Judi Dench), 1988; John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (as Jimmy
Porter, also televised); King Lear (as Edgar, also directed); A Midsummer Night's Dream (as Peter Quince, also directed), 1989; Uncle Vanya (co-directed); and Coriolanus (title role), 1992. Returned to the Royal Shakespeare Company to star in Hamlet in London and Stratford, 1992–93; television work includes roles in The Boy in the Bush, the Billy Trilogy, adaptations of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, Ibsen's Ghosts, and O'Neill's Strange Interlude, Fortunes of War (mini-series), The Lady's Not for Burning and Shadow of a Gunman, 1982–1995; also narrated television documentary series, Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood, 1995; acted in first film, High Season, 1987; formed film production company, Renaissance Films PLC, October 1988; directed first film, Henry V, 1989; acted in star-studded Renaissance Theatre Company radio broadcasts (available on CD and cassette) commissioned by the BBC to commemorate Shakespeare's birthday, 1992–94; other radio work includes Diaries of Samuel Pepys and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.Awards: Bancroft Gold Medal, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, 1982; Most Promising Newcomer Award, Society of West End Theatres, 1982, for Another Country; Best New Director from New York Film Critics Circle, Evening Standard Best Film of the Year, Best Film and Technical Achievement Award from British Film Institute, Best Director Award from British Academy of Film and Television Artists (BAFTA), and Best Director Award from National Board of Review, all 1989–90, all for Henry V; Honorary D. Lit., Queen's University, Belfast, 1990; "Golden Quill" Award from America's Shakespeare Guild, 2000. Agent: Rick Nicita, Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A. Address: Shepperton Studios, Studio Road, Shepperton, Middlesex, TW17 OQD England.
Films as Director and Actor:
Henry V (+ title role, adapt)
Dead Again (+ro as Mike Church/Roman Strauss)
Peter's Friends (+ ro as Andrew Benson, pr); Swan Song (d only)
Much Ado about Nothing (+ ro as Benedick, adapt, co-pr)
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (+ ro as Dr. Frankenstein, co-pr)
In the Bleak Midwinter (A Midwinter's Tale) (d only, + sc)
Hamlet (+ title role, adapt)
The Betty Schimmel Story
Love's Labour's Lost (+ro as Berowne, adapt)
High Season (ro); A Month in the Country (ro)
Swing Kids (ro)
Gielgud: Scenes from Nine Decades (doc for British TV) (narrator)
Looking for Richard (Pacino) (as himself)
Cold War (series for TV) (as Narrator); The Gingerbread Man (Altman) (ro as Richard "Rick" Magruder); The Proposition (ro as Father Michael McKinnon); Celebrity (Allen) (ro as Lee Simon); The Theory of Flight (ro as Richard); The Dance of Shiva (ro as Colonel Evans)
Wild Wild West (ro as Dr. Arliss Loveless)
How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog (ro as Peter McGowan); The Road to El Dorado (voice of Miguel)
By BRANAGH: books—
Public Enemy (play), 1988.
Beginning (autobiography), Norton, 1989.
Henry V (screen adaptation with introduction), Chatto & Windus, 1989.
Much Ado about Nothing (screen adaptation, introduction, and notes on the making of the film), Norton, 1993.
The Making of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, 1994.
In the Bleak Midwinter (screenplay with introduction), Nick Hern Books, 1995.
By BRANAGH: articles and interviews—
"Formidable Force," an interview with Michael Billington, in Interview, October 1989.
Interview with Joan Lunden, broadcast on Good Morning, America, American Broadcasting Company, 23 August 1991 (program number 1355).
"Hamlet Takes to the Air," an interview with Heather Neill, in TimesEducational Supplement, 24 April 1992.
Interview with Charles Gibson, broadcast on Good Morning, America, American Broadcasting Company, 21 December 1992 (program number 1701).
"Once More, onto the Screen," an interview with Peter Barnes, in Los Angeles Times, 2 May 1993.
Interview with Iain Johnstone, in Times (London), 15 August 1993.
"Branagh Talks about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," an interview with Charlie Rose, broadcast on the Public Broadcasting System, 26 October 1994 (program number 1234).
"It's a Monster!," an interview with Graham Fuller, in Interview, November 1994.
"Branagh Discusses His Life and Career," an interview with Charlie Rose, broadcast on the Public Broadcasting System, 30 December 1994 (program number 1281).
Interview with John Naughton, in Premiere (U.K. edition), December 1995.
"Branagh's 'Bracing' Encounter with the Bard," in Variety (Brewster), 16–22 December 1996.
"Hamlets forspill," an interview with J. Ova, in Film & Kino (Oslo), 1996.
"Idol Chatter," an interview with A. Weisel, in Premiere (Boulder), December 1996.
"My Friends Say I Need a Psychiatrist," an interview with Andrew Duncan, in Time Out (London), 15 February 1997.
"Kenneth Branagh: With Utter Clarity," an interview with Paul Meier, in TDR (Cambridge, MA), Summer 1997.
On BRANAGH: books—
Shuttleworth, Ian, Ken & Em: A Biography of Kenneth Branagh andEmma Thompson, St. Martin's, 1995.
Drexler, Peter, and Lawrence Gunter, Negotiations with Hal: Multi-Media Perceptions of Henry the Fifth, Braunschweig, Germany, 1995.
Hatchuel, Sarah, A Companion to the Shakespearean Films of Kenneth Branagh, Winnipeg, 1999.
Weiss, Tanja, Shakespeare on the Screen: Kenneth Branagh's Adaptations of Henry V, Much Ado about Nothing, and Hamlet, Frankfurt and New York, 1999.
On BRANAGH: articles—
Whitebrook, Peter, "Branagh's Bugbear," in Plays and Players, March 1985.
Renton, Alex, "Renaissance Man," in Plays and Players, July 1987.
Forbes, Jill, review of Henry V, in Sight and Sound, Autumn 1989.
Nightingale, Benedict, "Henry V Returns as a Monarch for This Era," in New York Times, 5 November 1989.
Champlin, Charles, "The Wellesian Success of Citizen Branagh," in Los Angeles Times, 9 November 1989.
Fuller, Graham, "Journals: Two Kings—Kenneth," in Film Comment, November/December 1989.
Kliman, Bernice, "Branagh's Henry V: Allusion and Illusion," in Shakespeare on Film Newsletter, December 1989.
Willson, Robert F., Jr., "Henry V: Branagh's and Olivier's Choruses," in Shakespeare on Film Newsletter, April 1990.
Breight, Curtis, "Branagh and the Prince, or a 'Royal Fellowship of Death,"' in Critical Quarterly, Winter 1991.
Donaldson, Peter, "Taking on Shakespeare: Kenneth Branagh's Henry V," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Spring 1991.
Willson, Robert F., Jr., "War and Reflection on War: The Olivier and Branagh Films of Henry V," in Shakespeare Bulletin, Summer 1991.
Weber, Bruce, "From Shakespeare to Hollywood," in New YorkTimes, 18 August 1991.
Booe, Martin, "Ken Again," in Premiere, September 1991.
Rafferty, Terrence, "Showoffs," in New Yorker, 9 September 1991.
Feeney, F. X., "Vaulting Ambition," in American Film, September/October 1991.
Deats, Sara Munson, "Rabbits and Ducks: Olivier, Branagh, and Henry V," in Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 4, 1992.
Pursell, Michael, "Playing the Game: Branagh's Henry V," in Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 4, 1992.
Tatspaugh, Patricia, "Theatrical Influences on Kenneth Branagh's Film: Henry V," in Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 4, 1992.
Smith, Dinitia, "Much Ado about Branagh," in New York, 24 May 1993.
Barton, Anne, "Shakespeare in the Sun," in New York Review ofBooks, 27 May 1993.
Sharman, Leslie F., review of Much Ado about Nothing, in Sight andSound (London), September 1993.
Light, Allison, "The Importance of Being Ordinary," in Sight andSound (London), September 1993.
Ryan, Richard, "Much Ado about Branagh," in Commentary, October 1993.
Lane, Robert, "When Blood Is Their Argument: Class, Character, and Historymaking in Shakespeare's and Branagh's Henry V," in ELH, Spring 1994.
Landy, Marcia, and Lucy Fisher, "Dead Again or Alive Again: Postmodern or Postmortem?," in Cinema Journal (Austin), Summer 1994.
Shaw, William P., "Textual Ambiguities and Cinematic Certainties in Henry V," in Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 22, no. 2, 1994.
Parker, Daniel, Mark Kermode, and Pat Kirkham, "Making Frankenstein and the Monster," in Sight and Sound (London), November 1994.
Thomson, David, "Really a Part of Me," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1995.
Gritten, David, "Kenneth Branagh on the Rebound," in Los AngelesTimes, 3 June 1995.
Lavoie, A., "Les Shakespeare se ramassent a la pellea" in Cine-Bulles (Montreal), vol. 16, no. 1, 1997.
Lundeen, Kathleen, "Pumping up the Word with Cinematic Supplements," in Film Criticism (Edinboro, PA), Fall 1999.
* * *
It is impossible to consider Kenneth Branagh's meteoric rise as a film director and actor without taking into account the career in the British theatre which shaped it—and to which Branagh still periodically returns. Classically trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where he was awarded the prestigious Bancroft Gold Medal as outstanding student of the year, Branagh completed his course of study in 1982, then moved rapidly into a series of attention-getting roles on the West End and on television. His early association with Shakespeare's plays began with an invitation to join the Royal Shakespeare Company at the age of twenty-three, and he became the youngest actor ever to perform the title role in an RSC production of Henry V. Important parts in other Shakespeare productions in that 1984–85 season contributed to Branagh's emergence as a stage director soon thereafter.
He left the RSC to direct an independent production of Romeo and Juliet (in which he also starred) and, primarily, to form (with actor David Parfitt) his own production group, which became a reality in 1987 as the Renaissance Theatre Company. Renaissance acquired a high profile in rapid time, with Branagh and other major British actors directing a variety of productions in which they also appeared, in London and on national and international tours. Hamlet (with Branagh in the title role, directed by Derek Jacobi)—which, like Henry V, would become a play with which Branagh would be permanently linked—and Twelfth Night (directed by Branagh and later remounted for television) were among Renaissance's most successful late-1980s productions. The company's success enabled Branagh to make his first film, now financed through the production company he called Renaissance Films PLC.
Most actors who turn to film directing do so in mid-career, ordinarily after they have obtained considerable experience in front of the camera. Even Laurence Olivier, whose professional path Branagh's career so frequently appears to emulate, did not direct his first film until he was in his late thirties, and by then, after twenty-two screen appearances, he was a major star. In 1989, when Branagh directed his first film at the age of twenty-nine, his scant movie experience included just two feature films. By that time, however, he had achieved remarkable success as an actor, director, and producer on the British stage and in a variety of important television roles. And, as it happened, he had already written several plays of his own, one of them (Tell Me Honestly) produced by the RSC, another (Public Enemy) produced to launch the first Renaissance season. In this unusual, multitalented respect, Branagh's formative years most resemble the early career of Orson Welles—who made Citizen Kane, his first film, when he was twenty-six, after establishing a formidable theatre and radio presence in the late 1930s. Welles had the Mercury Theatre as his special training ground; Branagh had the Renaissance.
It is surely no accident, however, that the first film Branagh directed (and adapted and starred in) was the same first film which Laurence Olivier directed (and adapted and starred in): Henry V, the final history play in Shakespeare's tetralogy on kingship, which begins with Richard II and also includes King Henry IV, Parts One and Two. The comparisons and contrasts between the two films are genuinely striking, reflective of the periods in which they were made and of the imposing talents of the men who made them.
Olivier, responding to Winston Churchill's plea for a film to rally Britain in the final days of World War II, creates a ringingly, unambiguously heroic Henry for the ages, an idealized monarch who leads England to victory against France with commanding force tempered by humanity. Olivier's Henry V ensures that English history is represented as comedy. The excision of lines spoken by the Chorus in the play's final scene makes the romantic pairing of Henry and Katherine appear deceptively permanent, thereby assuring the wartime spectator of a stable English future in fact contradicted by Shakespeare's text and by English history. This interpretation is visually reinforced: Olivier's Henry V is artfully shot to highlight a deliberate sense of artificial cinema space; a Disneyesque mise-en-scene, with its heightened technicolored landscapes, illustrates a fairy-tale universe in which battles are won with little serious injury.
Olivier's and Branagh's versions of Henry V have virtually identical running times (136 and 138 minutes, respectively). Like Olivier's version, Branagh's attempts to create a reflexive illusion of theatre itself in the film's opening section, though Branagh alters and reduces Olivier's reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre to insinuations of a movie sound stage. Like Olivier's version, Branagh's includes explicit references to Henry's earlier relationship with Falstaff in the two Henry IV plays. And, like Olivier's actors, Branagh's dazzling cast (many of them associated with Renaissance) includes some of the finest Shakespearean verse speakers available.
In virtually every other respect, Branagh's film diverges from Olivier's. His Henry V represents history as tragedy. Significant passages omitted by Olivier, because they reflect flaws in Henry's character or guilt at his father's usurpation of the crown from Richard II, are restored by Branagh. Although he properly retains the heroic elements required by such set speeches as the Saint Crispian's Day call to arms, his portrayal of the king emphasizes the dark and complex elements within Henry's character. Unlike Olivier's version, Branagh's film includes the conspiracy against Henry. This portion of the film is dimly lit, heavily shadowed. Henry behaves in Machiavellian fashion and appears unsympathetic in his own conspiratorial behavior. In text restored to the Harfleur sequence, Henry looks and sounds downright pathological. War scenes feature death marches; soldiers die in mud and muck. Quick cuts, slow-motion photography, extended tracking shots, and unusual framing perspectives are employed to heighten the inescapable anti-war ideology vital to Branagh's approach. A few more liberties are taken with the text than in Olivier's version, including the placement of the king at the hanging of Bardolph. The inclusion of liturgical music in Patrick Doyle's wonderfully evocative score contributes movingly to the film's power. Most notable of all, perhaps, Branagh restores the lines Olivier cut from the Chorus's speech which conclude the play on such a dark note. Henry V may, indeed, have created the world's "best garden," but the peaceful idyll he achieved was short-lived once his infant son inherited the throne: "Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crowned King/Of France and England, did this King succeed,/Whose state so many had the managing/That they lost France, and made his England bleed."
By any measure, Branagh's Henry V is a stunning film. That it succeeded so powerfully in duplicating, perhaps surpassing, Olivier's achievement is all the more striking in the context of its director's youthful audacity. Branagh's other Shakespeare films include the superb Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet, and Othello (with Branagh cast as a vividly slimy Iago), which Branagh unfortunately did not direct. Othello is visually tame, the Shakespeare text excessively cut.
But Much Ado about Nothing proved that Branagh's success with Henry V was no fluke. Co-starring Emma Thompson as Beatrice opposite Branagh's Benedick, Much Ado certified his nimble approach in making Shakespeare accessible and entertaining, while preserving much of the original poetry and literacy. Branagh's screen adaptations of Much Ado and Hamlet also confirm what had become strikingly evident in his leadership of the Renaissance Theatre Company: He is a keenly savvy—some might say cynically savvy—marketer of his projects. By casting such actors as Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington, and Robert Sean Leonard alongside Branagh, Thompson, and other British actors in Much Ado, and by casting Robin Williams, Jack Lemmon, Gerard Depardieu, and Billy Crystal alongside Branagh, Derek Jacobi, John Gielgud, and Julie Christie in Hamlet, Branagh strengthens his films' potential international markets, particularly in the United States. Such patterns of casting do not always work, but they do help to attract financing and have influenced recent attempts by others to adapt Shakespeare to the screen.
Although the text of Much Ado about Nothing has been severely pruned by Branagh, like his Henry V, it emerges on screen as a highly intelligent, clearly told story. Filmed on location in Tuscany, Much Ado is visually enchanting, as vibrantly bright and sensually warm as Henry V is consciously dark and (until the wooing scene) cold. Like so much of his film work, Branagh's reading of Much Ado derives a great deal from his performance (also opposite Emma Thompson) in Renaissance's stage production of the play, directed by Judi Dench in 1988. Branagh has written of the potentially filmic images that haunted him during performances of that production in his introduction to the published screenplay: "One night during Balthasar's song 'Sigh No More, Ladies,' the title sequence of this film played over and over in my mind; heat, haze and dust, grapes and horseflesh, and a nod to The Magnificent Seven. The men's sexy arrival, the atmosphere of rural Messina, the vigour and sensuality of the women, possessed me in the weeks, months, and years that followed."
"Emotional volatility," Branagh writes in this essay, was the key to the Beatrice-Benedick relationship. But, most especially—in Much Ado as in virtually all Renaissance stage and screen productions—the rehearsal process depended on a genuine desire to eliminate "artificial Shakespeare voices" in favor of acting "naturalness" which would retain the poetry while conveying the "realistic, conversational tone" present in much of the play's original dialogue. The witty battle of the sexes, so often the essence of comedy, is splendidly articulated here in the Branagh-Thompson dueling lovers. Like Henry V, Much Ado proves in both visual and aural terms that, even when Branagh cuts Shakespeare's text perhaps more than he should, he knows exactly how and why he is doing it.
Among Branagh's non-Shakespearean films, Dead Again deserves special mention. A film in which Branagh and Emma Thompson both play dual roles, it reveals Branagh's knowledge of other films, filmmakers, and genres—and his considerable versatility as both actor and director. Dead Again employs numerous conventions of film noir, including the periodic insertion of a 1940s plot-line, shot in black and white, into the film's main story, which is photographed in color. Numerous references to specific films (including Citizen Kane, Psycho, Vertigo, and noir detective pictures) periodically appear. (Dead Again even makes droll reference to one of its featured actor's early television successes: Derek Jacobi's I, Claudius series.) The film's detective hero, Mike Church, displays Branagh in James Cagney mode. The screenplay and performances are extremely witty, by turns frightening the spectator into total identification or saturating him with over-the-top red herrings that become self-reflexively and genuinely funny. Robin Williams's uncredited appearance as a psychiatrist is among the film's cleverest surprises.
Peter's Friends and In the Bleak Midwinter are modest entertainments, partially autobiographical, it would appear, particularly In the Bleak Midwinter (released in the United States as A Midwinter's Tale). Here, Branagh affectionately satirizes a group of actors attempting to mount a production of Hamlet, and the film appeals especially to admirers of British theatre. It should be noted, particularly in audience anticipation of Branagh's Hamlet movie, that he returned to the RSC to play the title role in a magnificent, sold-out production of that play (directed by Adrian Noble) during the 1992–93 season. In numerous ways, Hamlet is likely to be the Shakespeare play with which Branagh (who also directed the all-star BBC radio version) remains most closely identified.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is as "big" a Branagh film as Peter's Friends and In the Bleak Midwinter are small ones. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola and costing forty-four million dollars, the film stars Branagh (who also directed) as Victor Frankenstein and Robert De Niro as the tormented creature. It contains numerous imaginative pleasures, but its overblown representation of an implicitly overblown story brought general critical wrath upon Branagh's head at the time of its release. It has became a rare example of a Branagh film that (to date) is a commercial failure.
In January, 2000, Branagh was awarded the Golden Quill by the Shakespeare Guild, an American society devoted to fostering appreciation of the Bard in the United States. The award preceded by three months the American premiere of Branagh's film Much Ado about Nothing—a work taking what might be considered substantial liberties with the Shakespearean text. Branaugh, who starred, directed, and wrote the screenplay, set the story in the 1930s and made it a musical comedy, complete with period songs by Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. American critics tended to praise the film for its freshness and mixture of cinematic styles; British reviewers were, on the whole, considerably less generous.
The careers of Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, as frequent co-stars and a prominent acting couple, have attracted considerable publicity, especially since their marriage in 1989 and separation in 1995. (Their relationship has invited frequent comparison to the one between Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, who eventually divorced.) Each has always made films without the other; and Thompson has won Oscars for Best Actress in Howards End and for Best Screenplay Adaptation for Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Nevertheless, some of the most magical moments in Branagh's films feature the two of them together (Henry V, Peter's Friends, Dead Again, Much Ado about Nothing).
—Mark W. Estrin, updated by Justin Gustainis
Branagh, Kenneth 1960-
Branagh, Kenneth 1960-
Surname is pronounced Bran-och; full name, Kenneth Charles Branagh; born December 10, 1960, in Belfast, Northern Ireland; son of William (a plumber and carpenter) and Frances (maiden name, Harper) Branagh; married Emma Thompson (an actress and writer), August 20, 1989 (divorced, 1995); married Lindsay Brunnock (an assistant art director), May 24, 2003. Education: Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, graduated, 1981. Religion: Protestant. Avocational Interests: Playing the guitar, reading.
Office—Kenneth Branagh, Ltd., Shepperton Studios, Studio Road, Shepperton, Middlesex TW17 0QD United Kingdom. Agent—Endeavor, 9601 Wilshire Blvd., 3rd Floor, Beverly Hills, CA 90210; Special Artists Agency, 9465 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 890, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Manager—The Hofflund Company, 9465 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 420, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Actor, director, producer, and writer. Royal Shakespeare Company, member of the company, 1983-85; Renaissance Theatre Company, cofounder, 1987, director, producer, and actor, 1987; Renaissance Films, PLC, founder, 1988; Kenneth Branagh, Ltd., Middlesex, England, principal; Chichester Cinema, New Park, England, vice president.
Bancroft Gold Medal, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, c. 1980;Laurence Olivier Theatre Award, most promising newcomer, Society of West End Theatre, and Plays & Players Award, both 1982, for Another Country; Television Award nomination, best actor, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1987, for "The Lady's Not for Burning," an episode of Fortunes of War; National Board of Review Award, best director, New York Film Critics Circle Award, best new director, and Technical Achievement Award, British Film Institute, all 1989, Film Award, best direction, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Chicago Film Critics Award, best foreign film, European Film Awards, best actor, best director, and young European film of the year, Academy Award nominations, best director and best actor, and Film Award nomination, best actor, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, all 1990, and Evening Standard Award, best film, all for Henry V; honorary Litt.D., Queen's University, Belfast, Ireland, 1990; William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger, 1991; Peter Sellers Award for Comedy, Evening Standard, 1992, for Peter's Friends; Golden Berlin Bear nomination, Berlin International Film Festival, 1992, for Dead Again; Academy Award nomination, best short—live action film, 1993, for Swan Song; Michael Balcon Award, outstanding contribution to cinema, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1993; Golden Palm Award nomination, Cannes International Film Festival, 1993, and Independent Spirit Award nomination (with others), best feature, 1994, both for Much Ado about Nothing; French Order of Arts and Letters, 1994; tied for Golden Osella Award, best director, and nominated for Golden Lion Award, both Venice International Film Festival, 1995, for In theBleak Midwinter; Film Excellence Award, Boston Film Festival, 1995; Academy Award nomination, best screenplay adaptation, 1996, for Hamlet; Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, best supporting actor, 1996, for Othello; Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination, favorite villain, 2000, for Wild Wild West; Inspiration Award, Empire Awards, 2000; Golden Quill (Gielgud Award), 2000; honorary degree, University of Birmingham, 2001; Emmy Award, outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or movie, 2001, Television Award nomination, AFI actor of the year—male—movie or miniseries, American Film Institute, Golden Globe Award nomination, best performance by an actor in a miniseries or motion picture made for television, 2002, Television Award nomination, best actor, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 2003, all for Conspiracy; ALFS Award, British supporting actor of the year, London Critics Circle Film Awards, Phoenix Film Critics Society Award nomination (with others), best acting ensemble, 2003, both for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or a movie, 2002, Television Award nomination, best actor, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 2003, both for Shackleton; Laurence Olivier Theatre Award, best actor, Evening Standard Theatre Award nomination, best actor, 2004, both for Edmond; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding lead actor in a miniseries, Satellite Award nomination, outstanding actor in a miniseries or a motion picture made for television, International Press Academy, 2005, Golden Globe Award nomination, best performance by an actor in a miniseries or motion picture made for television, Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, outstanding performance by a male actor in a television movie or miniseries, 2006, all for Warm Springs; Queer Lion—Special Mention and Golden Lion Award nomination, Venice Film Festival, 2007, both for Sleuth; also received an International Emmy Award for best documentary.
Judd, Another Country, London, 1982.
St. Francis of Assisi, St. Francis, London, 1984.
King of Navarre, Love's Labour's Lost, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, then London, 1984-85.
Title role, Henry V, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1984-85.
Laertes, Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, then Barbican Theatre Center, London, 1985.
Public Enemy, Renaissance Theatre Company, London, 1987.
Title role, Hamlet, Tivoli Festival, Renaissance Theatre Company, Elsinore Castle, Denmark, 1988.
Jimmy Porter, Look Back in Anger, Renaissance Theatre Company, 1989.
Peter Quince, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Renaissance Theatre Company, Mark Taper Forum, 1990.
Title role, Coriolanus, Renaissance Theatre Company, Chichester, England, 1992.
Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, then London, 1992-93.
Title role, Richard III, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, England, 2002.
Edmond, Royal National Theatre, Olivier Stage, London, 2003.
Also appeared in Romeo and Juliet, Renaissance Theatre Company, London; The Golden Girls; The Madness (solo show); Three Sisters.
Toured as Benedict, Much Ado about Nothing, Renaissance Theatre Company, British cities; Touchstone, As You Like It, Renaissance Theatre Company, British cities; Laertes, Hamlet, British cities.
Twelfth Night, Renaissance Theatre Company, 1989.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Renaissance Theatre Company, Mark Taper Forum, 1990.
The Play What I Wrote, Everyman Playhouse, Liverpool, England, 2001, then Lyceum Theatre, New York City, 2003.
Also directed The Life of Napoleon, Renaissance Theatre Company; (with others) Uncle Vanya, Renaissance Theatre Company.
(With David Parfitt) Hamlet, Renaissance Theatre Company, Tivoli Festival, Elsinore Castle, Denmark, 1988.
(Uncredited) Artist, Chariots of Fire, 1981.
D. H. Lawrence, Coming Through, 1985.
Charles Moon, A Month in the Country, Orion Classics, 1987.
Rick Lamb, High Season, Hemdale, 1987.
Title role, Henry V, Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1989.
Mike Church and Roman Strauss, Dead Again, Paramount, 1991.
Andrew Benson, Peter's Friends, Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1992.
Performer of excerpts from Henry V, Symphony for the Spire (also known as His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales Symphony for the Spire and A Spectacle of Music and Theatre in Aid of the Salisbury Cathedral Spire Appeal), 1992.
(Uncredited) Herr Knoff, Swing Kids, Hollywood Pictures, 1993.
Seigneur Benedick, Much Ado about Nothing, Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1993.
Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein (also known as Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein"), TriStar, 1994.
Iago, Othello, Columbia, 1995.
Title role, Hamlet (also known as William Shakespeare's "Hamlet"), Columbia, 1996.
Himself, Looking for Richard (documentary), Fox Searchlight Pictures, 1996.
Himself, Making "Hamlet" (documentary), 1996.
Himself, 100 Years of Horror: The Frankenstein Family, Passport International Entertainment, 1996.
Himself, To Be On Camera: A History with Hamlet (documentary short), Warner Home Video, 1997.
Colonel Evans, The Dance of Shiva, Epiphany Productions, 1998.
Father Michael McKinnon, The Proposition, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, 1998.
Lee Simon, Celebrity, Miramax, 1998.
Richard, The Theory of Flight, Fine Line, 1998.
Rick Magruder, The Gingerbread Man, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, 1998.
Dr. Arliss Loveless, Wild Wild West, Warner Bros., 1999.
Himself, The Book That Wrote Itself, RGH/Lions Share Pictures, 1999.
Narrator, The Betty Schimmel Story (documentary), 1999.
Narrator, Galapagos: The Enchanted Voyage (short documentary film), IMAX, 1999.
Voice of periwig-maker, The Periwig-Maker (animated short), Ideal Standard Film, 1999.
Berowne, Love's Labour's Lost (also known as Peines d mour perdues), Miramax, 2000.
Peter McGowan, How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog, Millennium Films, 2000.
Voice of Miguel, The Road to El Dorado (animated), DreamWorks SKG, 2000.
Behind the Scenes: "The Road to El Dorado" (documentary), 2000.
Actor and director, William Shakespeare, 2000.
Joseph Barnett, Schneider's 2nd Stage, 2001.
Steven Chesterman, Alien Love Triangle, Dimension Films, 2001.
A. O. Neville, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Miramax, 2002.
Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (also known as Harry Potter und die kammer des schreckens), Warner Bros., 2002.
Narrator, The Tramp and the Dictator (documentary), Warner Home Video, 2002.
Himself, Interviews with Professors & More (documentary short), 2003.
Uncle Albert, Five Children and It (also known as 5 Children & It and Cinq enfants et moi), 2004.
Narrator, Das Goebbels-Experiment (documentary; also known as The Goebbles Experiment), First Run Features, 2005.
(Uncredited) Himself—offscreen voice, As You Like It, 2006.
The Magic Flute (also known as La flute enchantee), 2006.
Henning von Tresckow, Valkyrie (also known as Walkure), United Artists, 2008.
Director and producer, Henry V, Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1989.
Director, Dead Again, Paramount, 1991.
Director, Swan Song (short), Renaissance Films, 1992.
Director and producer, Peter's Friends, Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1992.
Director and producer, Much Ado about Nothing, Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1993.
Director and producer, Frankenstein (also known as Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein"), TriStar, 1994.
Director, In the Bleak Midwinter (also known as A Midwinter's Tale), Sony Pictures Classics, 1996.
Director, Hamlet (also known as William Shakespeare's "Hamlet"), Columbia, 1996.
Director, The Betty Schimmel Story (documentary), 1999.
Supporter, The Periwig-Maker (also known as Der Peruckenmacher), 1999.
Director and producer, Love's Labour's Lost (also known as Peines d mour perdues), Miramax, 2000.
Director, Listening (short), 2003.
Director, executive producer, and producer, As You Like It, Lionsgate, 2006.
Director, The Magic Flute (also known as La flute enchantee), Revolver Entertainment, 2006.
Director and producer, Sleuth, Sony Pictures Classics, 2007.
Television Appearances; Series:
Multiple roles, Thompson, 1990.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Host, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Disney Channel, 1983.
Jack Grant, Boy in the Bush, ABC [Australia], 1984.
Guy Pringle, Fortunes of War, BBC, 1987, broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre, PBS, 1988.
Gordon Evans as an adult, "Strange Interlude," American Playhouse, PBS, 1988.
Sir Ernest Shackleton (title role), Shackleton, Arts and Entertainment, 2001.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Oswald, The Ghosts, BBC, 1986.
Thomas Mendip, The Lady's Not for Burning, ITV, 1987.
Billy, Lorna, 1987.
Jimmy Porter, Look Back in Anger, Thames, 1989.
General Reinhard Heydrich, Conspiracy, HBO, 2001.
Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, Shackleton, 2002.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Warm Springs, 2005.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Charles Tansley, To the Lighthouse, PBS, 1983.
Himself and Hamlet, Discovering "Hamlet" (documentary), PBS, 1990.
The 62nd Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1990.
The European Film Awards, 1990.
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Disney Channel, 1990.
The Last Show on Earth, Central Independent Television, 1992.
Tales of Gold, BBC, 1992.
Narrator, Gielgud: Scenes from Nine Decades (documentary), 1994.
Himself, The True Story of Frankenstein, Arts and Entertainment, 1994.
Narrator, Anne Frank Remembered (documentary), BBC and Disney Channel, 1995.
Host and narrator, Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood (documentary), PBS, 1996.
The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 1996.
The 69th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1997.
Narrator, Cold War (documentary), CNN, 1998.
Narrator, Universal Horror (documentary), TCM, 1998.
Narrator, Great Composers, BBC, 1999.
Narrator of British version, Walking with Dinosaurs (animated documentary), BBC and Discovery Channel, 1999.
Narrator, The Making of "Walking with Dinosaurs" (documentary), BBC, 1999.
The BBC and BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Tribute to Richard Attenborough, BBC, 1999.
Narrator (UK version), The Ballad of Big Al (also known as Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special), BBC and Discovery Channel, 2000.
Narrator of British version, Big Al Uncovered (also known as The Science of Big Al), BBC, 2000.
Narrator, Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces, TCM, 2000.
Presenter, The 54th Annual Tony Awards, CBS and PBS, 2000.
Narrator (UK version), Triumph of the Beasts (also known as Science Special: Triumph of the Beasts and The Science of Walking with the Beasts: Part One), BBC, 2001.
Narrator, The Beasts Within (also known as Science Special: "The Beasts Within" an The Science of Walking with the Beasts: Part Two), BBC, 2001.
Narrator, Following the Rabbit-Proof Fence (documentary), 2002.
Judi Dench: A BAFTA Tribute, BBC, 2002.
"Robert Altman in England," Omnibus, BBC, 2002.
Narrator, World War 1 in Colour, 2003.
Narrator, Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic, TCM, 2004.
A Tribute to Joe Mantegna, 2004.
Narrator, Walking with Monsters, 2005.
Stephen Fry: 50 Not Out, BBC4, 2007.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Robert Clyde Moffat, Maybury, BBC, 1981.
Student, "Easter 2016," Play for Tomorrow, BBC, 1982.
Billy, "Too Late to Talk to Billy," Play for Today, BBC, 1982.
Billy, "A Matter of Choice for Billy," Play for Today, BBC, 1983.
Robert Clyde Moffat, "Love's Labour: Part 2," Maybury, BBC, 1983.
Billy, "A Coming to Terms for Billy," Play for Today, BBC, 1984.
Himself, Wogan (also known as The Wogan Years), BBC, 1986.
Late Night with David Letterman, NBC, 1991.
Good Morning, America, ABC, 1991, 1992.
Showbiz Today, CNN, 1993.
The Charlie Rose Show (also known as Charlie Rose), PBS, 1993, 2000.
Donal Davoren, "Shadow of a Gunman," Performance, BBC, 1995.
Film '96 (also known as The Film Programme), BBC, 1996.
Dias de cine, 1996.
"Hamlet," HBO First Look, HBO, 1996.
The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated, 1996, 1998, 2000.
"It's a Whole New West: The Making of ‘Wild, Wild West,’" HBO First Look, HBO, 1999.
Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC, 2000, 2007.
"The Road to Eldorado," HBO First Look, HBO, 2000.
Parkinson, 2000, 2007.
"Richard Briers: A Good Life," Funny Turns, BBC, 2000.
Narrator, "Mammoth Journey," Walking with Beasts (also known as Walking with Prehistoric Beasts), Discovery Channel, 2001.
"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," HBO First Look, HBVO, 2002.
Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show, syndicated, 2005.
Narrator, "The Man Behind Hitler," The American Experience, PBS, 2006.
Voice (Bible readings), Secrets of the Dead, PBS, 2006-2007.
Eigo de shabera-night, 2007.
Entertainment Tonight (also known as E.T.), syndicated, 2007.
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, CBS, 2007.
Television Work; Movies:
Executive producer, Wallander, BBC, 2008.
Title role, Hamlet, BBC, 1992.
Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, BBC, 1993.
Edmund, King Lear, BBC, 1994.
As I Walked Out One Morning/A Moment of War, BBC, 1994.
Cider with Rosie, BBC, 1994.
Also appeared in Diaries of Samuel Pepys; Frankenstein.
Cousin Phyllis, 1988.
Cover to Cover, 1988.
Last Enemy, ASV Records and Tapes, 1990.
Title role, Hamlet, Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1992.
Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1993.
Anthem for Doomed Youth, Random House Audio Books, 1993.
Longshot, Harper Audio, 1994.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Simon & Schuster Audio, 1994.
Edmund, King Lear, Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1994.
Captain and the Enemy, Chivers Audio Books, 1995.
Pepys Diary, Hodder Headline Audiobooks, 1995.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Trafalger Square, 2002.
(With others), King Lear, Naxos, 2002.
C. S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew, 2003.
Dr. Arliss Loveless, "Wild Wild West," The Will Smith Music Video Collection, Sony Video, 1999.
Tell Me Honestly, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1985.
Public Enemy, Renaissance Theatre Company, London, 1987, published by Faber (London), 1988.
Henry V (adaptation of the play by William Shakespeare), Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1989, published by Chatto and Windus (London), 1989.
Much Ado about Nothing (based on the play by Shakespeare), Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1993, published with introduction and notes, Chatto and Windus, 1993.
In the Bleak Midwinter (also known as A Midwinter's Tale), 1995, Sony Pictures Classics, 1996, published as In the Bleak Midwinter: The Shooting Script, Nick Hern Books (New York City), 1995, published as A Midwinter's Script, Newmarket Press (New York City), 1996.
Hamlet (based on the play by Shakespeare; also known as William Shakespeare "Hamlet"), Columbia, 1996, published in Hamlet: The Making of the Movie, including the Screenplay, Norton, 1996.
Love's Labour's Lost (based on the play by Shakespeare; also known as Peines d mour perdues), Miramax, 2000.
As You Like It (adaptation of the play by Shakespeare), Lionsgate, 2006.
The Magic Flute (also known as La flute enchantee), Revolver Entertainment, 2006.
Beginning (autobiography), Chatto and Windus (London), 1989, Norton (New York City), 1990.
The Making of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," 1994.
Hamlet: The Making of the Movie, including the Screenplay, Norton, 1996.
Shakespeare on the Screen: Kenneth Branagh—Adaptations of Henry V, Much Ado about Nothing, and Hamlet, revised edition, Peter Lang (New York City), 2000.
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 59, Thomson Gale, 2005.
Davies, Anthony, and Stanley Wells, editors, Shakespeare and the Moving Image, Cambridge University Press (New York City), 1994.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, St. James Press, 1996.
Newsmakers: The People Behind Today's Headlines, Gale, 1992.
Parsons, Keith, and Pamela Mason, Shakespeare in Performance, Salamander Books, 1995.
Shuttleworth, Ian, Ken & Em: A Biography of Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, Headline (London), 1994.
Advocate, February 20, 1996, pp. 42-49.
American Film, September/October, 1991.
Cineaste, winter, 1998, pp. 34-41.
Cinema Journal, summer, 1994.
Commentary, October, 1993.
Critical Quarterly, winter, 1991.
Daily Mail (London, England), June 2, 2003, p. 26.
Empire, Issue 66, 1994, pp. 98-109.
Esquire, January, 1990; September, 1991; December, 1994.
Film Comment, November/December, 1989; January/February, 1995.
Harper's Bazaar, February, 1990.
Hollywood Reporter, March 22, 1990.
Interview, October, 1989; November, 1994.
Literature/Film Quarterly, Volume 20, number 4, 1992; Volume 22, number 2, 1994.
Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1989; May 2, 1993; June 3, 1995.
Maclean's, August 26, 1991.
Madison, December, 1998.
Movieline, September, 1991.
New Republic, December 4, 1989.
Newsweek, February 19, 1990.
New York, February 12, 1990; May 24, 1993.
New Yorker, September 9, 1991.
New York Review of Books, May 27, 1993.
New York Times, January 8, 1989; November 5, 1989; November 8, 1989; January 21, 1990; August 18, 1991; March 28, 1993; May 16, 1993; November 9, 1994.
People Weekly, February 12, 1990; October 4, 1999, p. 115.
Plays & Players, March, 1985; July, 1987.
Premiere, September, 1991, pp. 74-78; February, 1993; December, 1995; December, 1996, p. 60; June, 1999, p. 102.
Publishers Weekly, March 23, 1990.
Rolling Stone, November 30, 1989; February 8, 1990.
Shakespeare Quarterly, spring, 1991.
Sight and Sound, September, 1993; November, 1994.
Starlog, February, 1995.
Sunday Times (London), October 1, 1989; October 8, 1989.
Time, November 13, 1989; February 5, 1990.
Times (London), August 17, 1985; July 18, 1987; August 15, 1993.
Times Educational Supplement, April 24, 1992.
Times Literary Supplement, October 20, 1989.
Vanity Fair, March, 1988.
Village Voice, May 25, 1993.
Vogue, January, 1988.
Nationality: Irish. Born: Kenneth Charles Branagh in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 10 December 1960; moved to Reading, England, at age nine. Family: Married the actress Emma Thompson 1989 (separated 1995). Education: Was graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London. Career: 1982—acted on the British stage, gaining attention for his performance in Another Country; 1984—joined the Royal Shakespeare Company; in TV mini-series Boys in the Bush; 1987—co-founded the Renaissance Theatre Company, for which he writes and directs; in TV mini-series Fortunes of War; 1988—in TV series Thompson; 1989—wrote biography, Beginning, in order to raise money for the Renaissance Theatre Company; earned international acclaim as director, adapter, and star of Henry V. Awards: Bancroft Gold Medal, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, 1982; Society of West End Theatres' Award, Most Promising Newcomer, and Plays and Players Award, for Another Country, 1982; Best Director, National Board of Review, Best New Director, New York Film Critics Circle, Best Actor and Young European Film of the Year, European Film Awards, British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Director, and Evening Standard Award, Best Film, for Henry V, 1989; Evening Standard Peter Sellers Award for Comedy, for Peter's Friends, 1992; BAFTA Michael Balcon Award, Outstanding Contribution to the Cinema, 1993. Agent: Clifford Stevens, STE Representation, Beverly Hills, CA, U.S.A. Address: 83 Berwick Street, London W1V 3PJ, England.
Films as Actor:
Too Late to Talk to Billy (Paul Seed—for TV)
To the Lighthouse (Colin Gregg—for TV) (as Charles Tansley)
Coming Through (Barber-Fleming—for TV) (as D. H. "Bert" Lawrence)
Ghosts (Moshinsky—for TV) (as Oswald)
High Season (Peploe) (as Rick Lamb); A Month in the Country (O'Connor) (as Charles Moon); Strange Interlude (Herbert Wise—for TV) (as Gordon Evans); The Lady's Not for Burning (Julian Amyes—for TV) (as Thomas Mendip)
Look Back in Anger (Judi Dench—for TV) (as Jimmy Porter)
Swing Kids (Carter) (as SS official, unbilled)
Anne Frank Remembered (Blair—doc) (as narrator)
Othello (Alan Parker) (as Iago); Looking for Richard (Pacino) (as self)
The Gingerbread Man (Altman) (as Rick Magruder); The Theory of Flight (Greengrass) (as Richard); Celebrity (Allen) (as Lee Simon)
Wild, Wild West (Sonnenfeld) (as Dr. Arliss Loveless)
Films as Director:
Henry V (+ title role, sc)
Dead Again (+ ro as Roman Strauss/Mike Church)
Peter's Friends (+ ro as Andrew, pr); Swan Song (short)
Much Ado about Nothing (+ ro as Benedick, co-pr, sc)
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (+ ro as Dr. Frankenstein, co-pr)
A Midwinter's Tale (In the Bleak Midwinter) (+ sc)
Hamlet (+ title role)
Love's Labour's Lost (+ ro as Berowne, sc)
By BRANAGH: books—
Beginning, London, 1989.
Henry V, London, 1989.
Much Ado about Nothing, London, 1993.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: The Classic Tale of Terror Reborn on Film, New York, 1994.
In the Bleak Midwinter: The Shooting Script, New York, 1995.
Hamlet, New York, 1996.
By BRANAGH: articles—
"Formidible Force," interview with Michael Billington, in Interview (New York), October 1989.
"Kenneth Branagh," interview in Premiere (New York), February 1993.
"Man of Many Parts," interview with M. Hindle in Time Out, 26 October 1994.
"It's a Monster: Kenneth Branagh Unveils His Biggest Creation Yet—Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," interview with Graham Fuller, in Interview (New York), November 1994.
"Kenneth Branagh Re-creates the Classics," interview in DGA (Los Angeles), December-January 1994–1995.
Interview with Alain Schlockoff in Écran Fantastique (Paris), December-January 1994–1995.
"Luvvied Up," interview with Steve Grant in Time Out (London), 25 October, 1995.
"My Friends Say I Need a Psychiatrist," interview with Andrew Duncan, in Radio Times (London), 15 February 1997.
On BRANAGH: book—
Shuttleworth, Ian, Ken & Em, New York, 1995.
On BRANAGH: articles—
Haskell, Molly, "People Are Talking about . . . Slow Idyll," in Vogue (New York), January 1988.
Billington, Michael, "Stage Sprite," in Vanity Fair (New York), March 1988.
Billington, Michael, "A New Olivier Is Taking on Henry V on the Screen," in New York Times, 8 January 1989.
Corliss, Richard, "King Ken Comes to Conquer," in Time (New York), 13 November 1989.
Fuller, Graham, "Kenneth," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1989.
Stuart, Cynthia, "Man Power: Modern British Explorers," in Esquire (New York), January 1990.
Turnbull, Robert, "Much Ado about Something," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), February 1990.
DeCurtis, Anthony, "Hail to the New King on the Block," in Rolling Stone (New York), 8 February 1990.
Stanfill, Francesca, "To the Mantle Born?," in New York, 12 February 1990.
Weber, B., "From Shakespeare to Hollywood," in New York Times, 18 August 1991.
Johnson, Brian D., "Big-Screen Theatre," in Maclean's (Toronto), 26 August 1991.
Booe, M., "Ken Again," in Premiere (New York), September 1991.
Lantos, J., "Beyond the Bard," in Movieline (Hollywood), September 1991.
Perret, E., "L.A. Bard," in Esquire (New York), September 1991.
Feeney, F. X., "Vaulting Ambition," in American Film (New York), September/October 1991.
Wilson, P., "Kenneth Branagh," in Film Monthly (Berkhamsted, England), November 1991.
Miller, R., "Emma Thompson's Family Business," in New York Times, 28 March 1993.
James, Caryn, "Why Branagh's Bard Glows on the Screen," in New York Times, 16 May 1993.
Smith, Dinitia, "Much Ado about Branagh," in New York, 24 May 1993.
Stuart, O., "Mold of Fashion," in Village Voice (New York), 25 May 1993.
Light, A., "The Importance of Being Ordinary," in Sight & Sound (London), September 1993.
"Much Ado about Shakespeare," in Economist (New York), 2 October 1993.
Witchel, Alex, "How Frankenstein Has Created a Hunk," in New York Times, 9 November 1994.
Thornton Burnett, Mark, "The 'very cunning of the scene': Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), April 1997.
* * *
When Henry V was released, Kenneth Branagh was little-known in America. He had appeared in several films and British made-for-television movies, acted on the stage and co-founded his own theater troupe, the Renaissance Theatre Company. But the 28-year-old filmmaker-phenomenon immediately was hailed as the "new Olivier" for both directing and starring as Shakespeare's warrior-king. Henry V is stirring filmmaking, and a tour de force which instantly thrust Branagh into the front ranks of international film personalities. As British critic Alexander Walker observed, the film "confirmed that all Laurence Olivier taught us about filming Shakespeare has not been forgotten—only boldly revised to fit a crueller world of kingship and power, mercifully one still tempered by magnificently spoken poetry." With an emphasis on Henry's exploration of his inner self, Branagh had produced a coming-of-age film that appealed to a broad contemporary audience. Although his battle scenes are bloodier than Olivier's and his wounded warriors are more ghastly, Branagh's view clearly is antiwar, a philosophy which touched modern viewers. As a critics' favorite and darling of the art film crowd, Branagh signed a lucrative contract to write his autobiography, a witty anecdotal ramble aptly called Beginnings, which was published while he still was in his twenties.
Branagh's other major go at cinematizing Shakespeare is the almost-equally successful Much Ado about Nothing, a delightfully airy, inventive version of the Shakespeare comedy adapted by Branagh. He and his then-wife, Emma Thompson, are cast as Benedick and Beatrice. They are especially charming when pitching cleverly written, risqué puns and slurs at each other. The same year, he found time to appear unbilled as a Nazi in Swing Kids, an unusual World War II story about the Nazi persecution of German adolescents who enjoyed American popular music.
Between his robust interpretations of the Bard, Branagh again won praise for directing and starring in two films which are very different in nature. In the British-made comedy-drama Peter's Friends, he is the husband of a flamboyant and ill-tempered Hollywood television star. In the Hollywood-produced film noir thriller Dead Again, he audaciously plays two roles, a fast-talking gumshoe and a sophisticated European composer who has emigrated to Los Angeles (in flashbacks to the 1940s). In both films, his co-star is Thompson.
It seemed Branagh the wunderkind could do no wrong until he was hired by Francis Ford Coppola to direct and star in the lavish, $40-million production, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The briskly-paced, stylized attempt to bring the classic novel to the screen with authenticity resulted in a bizarre, out-of-control disaster. Critics turned thumbs down, audiences shied away, and Branagh encountered the first major setback of what had seemed a charmed career.
Since that debacle marred his remarkable record, Branagh has scaled back the extent of his involvement in film projects. What followed was A Midwinter's Tale, the first film he directed (and wrote) in which he did not appear before the cameras. The black-and-white British production offers a somewhat coy, comical take on the "Let's put on a show in the barn" theme. At the time the film was released, another blow fell when the announcement was made that he and Thompson had separated. At that time, Branagh's immediate plans included starring as Iago in Oliver Parker's upcoming film of Othello and directing and playing the lead in Hamlet.
—Audrey E. Kupferberg