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