14 December 2021 464 Views

Ken Branagh’s BELFAST is Oscar Bait.

by James Murphy

It leads the GOLDEN GLOBE nominations. Oscars will follow? 

When I was a 12-13 year old boy, I admired Branagh. I thought he could do no wrong. He was the man who brought Shakespeare into an accessible, engaging, cinematic idiom, without ever numbing the language or the texts’ messages and motifs.

Somehow, Hollywood star names flocked to join Ken’s ensemble casts, with budgets still remarkably low and charm 100% intact. And there was the adorable wife, Emma Thompson.

Was he the new Olivier? No. That’s Timothy Dalton. But Branagh looked to be something more, in any event. This was a David Lean, an Irish Spielberg, an epic craftsman.

I was privileged enough to see the film premiere of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. The play was thankfully, my subsequent GCSE English Literature text and a performance piece during my A Level years. Michael Keaton’s Dogberry is a work of genius.

And Emma Thompson: so sexy. Adorable. We salute you! 

Naturally, I awaited MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN with great interest. The film flopped, in part, because they released it against STAR TREK: GENERATIONS and STARGATE, rather than cashing in on a big Halloween buzz or going for the January-February slot. But in any event, the film was awful. Empirically BAD. Camp, giddy, tonally illiterate vanity bomb.

There are of course many ways to interpret a novel for cinema, especially one of the great Gothic horrors. But in no way, at any stage, does one think, on reading Shelley’s masterpiece ‘I can picture Frankenstein showing off his newly toight body, wrestling the creature, in KY jelly, in the nude’. Gross. 

I was a fan, still. And a fair minded critic. Everyone is allowed a folly/misfire/flop. Even Branagh. So I went to watch his RICHARD III, on stage. Now, there are many ways to interpret Shakespeare, of course.

BUT AT NO STAGE EVER has a critic mused that ‘we need Richard to enter the stage, in his underpants’. Except Ken went ‘there’. He did. Cannot be unseen. Richard III. In pants. Granted he put on some trousers eventually. But even so.

 My point is that while Ken has undeniable talent and a solid work ethic, his downfall was a fusion between leading man ambition (ie; vanity) and a desire to please audiences (crowd winning whilst staying erudite).

Which is why, maybe, he found a great niche in making franchise products in the end? Branagh could play in the superhero toybox AND throw in some grand designs, textual allusion and moral motifs, whilst winning commercial clout?

Nothing to be ashamed of. Best of all worlds! THOR is a genuinely charming, romantic, funny romp: a beautifully scored, staged and presented piece of cinematic theatre./ Underrated Marvel gem!

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, though utterly gratuitous (SUM OF ALL FEARS had rebooted that series already; they should have just filmed EXECUTIVE ORDERS with Clooney as Ryan as was mooted?) is still a solid action adventure spy thriller.

And Ken will throw in his own self as the baddie (see also, Nolan’s TENET: no wait, don’t, or do, but in the future, then travel back to stop it happening?).

Where am I going with this? How do all those convoluted roads lead to BELFAST? Well, I have not seen the film. And I probably won’t, either. But what I will say is that Ken has cracked the Oscar code now. He’s waited long enough (Oscars love someone who lost out in the past so they owe you a belated award).

It’s a semi autobiographical picture. Check! There is a serious, grimy, historical backdrop, with hint of heart-warming hope? TICK! And yes, the film itself might well be quite good. Dunno. Good luck, hope you all love it.

My point is? If there were an award winning algorithm programme, it might come out with the formula for Branagh’s BELFAST. Which is why it leads the Golden Globes and might well take home a lot of Oscars. Fair play.

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINEES! 



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