Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh)

Kenneth Branagh

Kenneth Charles Branagh (born 10 December 1960) is an Emmy Award-winning, Academy Award-nominated Northern Irish actor and film director.

Personal life

Branagh, second of three children, was born in Belfast to working-class Protestant parents Frances (née Harper) and William Branagh, who was a plumber and carpenter, and ran a company that specialised in fitting partitions and suspended ceilings. He was educated at Grove Primary School. At the age of nine, he relocated with his family to Reading in England to escape "the Troubles". At school, he affected an English accent to avoid bullying. On his identity today he has said, "I feel Irish. I don't think you can take Belfast out of the boy," and he attributes his "love of words" to his Irishness.

Branagh is Honorary President of NICVA (the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action.) He received an honorary Doctorate in Literature from Queen's University of Belfast in 1990. He is also a patron for the charity Over The Wall.

He speaks Italian and is a lifelong supporter of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. He was married to Emma Thompson from August 20 1989 until 1995. For several years after divorcing Thompson he was in a well-publicized relationship with Helena Bonham Carter, with whom he also starred and directed in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. In 2003 he married film art director Lindsay Brunnock, to whom he was introduced by Bonham Carter in 1997.


Stage work

Branagh achieved some early measure of success in his native Northern Ireland for his role as the title character in the BBC's Play for Today series known as the Billy Plays, written by Graham Reid and set in Belfast. He has worked on both stage and screen.

He received acclaim in the UK for his stage performances, first winning the 1982 SWET Award for Best Newcomer, for his role as Judd in Julian Mitchell's Another Country, immediately after leaving RADA. He and David Parfitt founded the Renaissance Theatre Company in 1987, following success with several productions on the London 'Fringe', including Branagh's full-scale production of Romeo and Juliet at the Lyric Studio, co-starring with Samantha Bond. The first major Renaissance production was Branagh's Christmas 1987 staging of Twelfth Night at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, starring Richard Briers as Malvolio and Frances Barber as Viola, and with an original score by Scottish actor, musician and composer Patrick Doyle, who two years later was to compose the music for Branagh's film of Henry V.

Branagh became a major presence in the media and on the British stage when Renaissance collaborated with Birmingham Rep for a 1988 touring season of three Shakespeare plays under the umbrella title of Renaissance Shakespeare on the Road, which also played a repertory season at the Phoenix Theatre in London. It featured directorial debuts for Judi Dench with Much Ado About Nothing (starring Branagh and Bond as Benedick and Beatrice), Geraldine McEwan with As You Like It, and Derek Jacobi directing Branagh in the title role in Hamlet, with Sophie Thompson as Ophelia. Critic Milton Shulman for the Evening Standard wrote: "On the positive side Branagh has the vitality of Olivier, the passion of Gielgud, the assurance of Guinness, to mention but three famous actors who have essayed the role. On the negative side, he has not got the magnetism of Olivier, nor the mellifluous voice quality of Gielgud nor the intelligence of Guinness.

A year later in 1989 Branagh co-starred with Emma Thompson in the Renaissance revival of Look Back in Anger. Judi Dench directed both the theatre and television productions, presented first in Belfast then at the London Coliseum and Lyric Theatre.

More recently, in 2002, Branagh starred in the Crucible Theatre , Sheffield as Richard III and in 2003 in the Royal National Theatre's production of David Mamet's Edmond. Branagh directed The Play What I Wrote in England in 2001 and directed a Broadway production in 2003. From September to November 2008, Branagh appears at the Wyndham's Theatre as the title character in the Donmar West End revival of Chekhov's Ivanov in a new version by Tom Stoppard. His performance was lauded as the "performance of the year" by several critics.

Film work

Branagh is probably best known for his film adaptations of the works of William Shakespeare, beginning with Henry V in 1989, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, and Love's Labour's Lost, with As You Like It following in 2006. As You Like It premiered in theatres in Europe, but was sent directly to television in the U.S., where it had its U.S. premiere on HBO in August of 2007. Although Branagh played the role of Iago on the 1995 Othello, he did not direct the film; it was directed by Oliver Parker. Othello is the one Shakespeare film that Branagh has appeared in which was directed by someone else. His performance was well-received, however, and garnered him a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for "Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role."

Notable non-Shakespeare films that Branagh has appeared in include Dead Again and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, both of which he also directed, Wild Wild West, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, in which he portrayed egotistical wizard Gilderoy Lockhart, and the yet-to-be-released Valkyrie, about the 1944 attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler.

Branagh has also been involved in several made-for-TV films. Among his most acclaimed portrayals is that of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in the 2005 film Warm Springs, for which he received Emmy, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe Award nominations. Though the film received sixteen Emmy nominations, winning five (including Best Made-For-Television Film), Branagh did not win the award for his portrayal. He did, however, receive an Emmy award and a Golden Globe Award nomination for his performance in the 2001 TV Conspiracy, a depiction of the Wannsee Conference, where Nazi officials conceived the Final Solution. Branagh's award winning performance was for the part of Reinhard Heydrich.

Branagh has been nominated for four Academy Awards. His first two nominations were for Henry V (one each for directing and acting). He also received similar BAFTA Award nominations, winning one for his direction. Branagh's two other Academy Award nominations were for the 1992 film short subject Swan Song and for his work on the screenplay of Hamlet in 1996. Branagh has co-starred several times with actress Emma Thompson, to whom he was married from 1989 to 1995. They appeared together in Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Dead Again, and Peter's Friends.

In 1989, at age 28, Branagh authored an autobiography, which he entitled Beginning, and has narrated several audio books such as The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis.

In 1994, Branagh declined an appointment as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). Branagh was the youngest actor to receive the Golden Quill (also known as the Gielgud Award) in 2000.

Branagh has begun filming three films based on Henning Mankell's best-selling Wallander crime novels for the BBC. Branagh will also serve as the executive producer of Wallander. The three 90-minute crime dramas are to be filmed this summer on location in Ystad in southern Sweden, home of fictional detective Kurt Wallander. Mankell's series of books on the life of the enigmatic police inspector have achieved great international success, selling 25 million copies worldwide.





Discography and audiobooks

Further reading

  • Mark White: Kenneth Branagh faber and faber 2005 ISBN 0-571-22068-1
  • Theatre Record and its annual Indexes


External links

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