Having met his protégé (the very sweet Mr Hiddleston) and had my eyes opened? I thought: ‘why stop there?’.
Time to redeem Sir Ken. Sorta.
I have often been asked why I give Kenneth Branagh a hard time on here. Simple. I think he is now being lauded for work that is simply inferior to his early great promise.
He now plays baddies in blockbuster films and does so, imho, kinda on autopilot (though sadly we never saw him play a Mission: Impossible villain, as mooted once).
The man is greeted as a ‘darling’ (dahhling) in every interview and media circle.
Branagh is now the late era Olivier replica that initially, he was keen to avoid becoming. Sir Ken is now a brand in a way and it therefore matters not what quality or quantity of work he produces.
Bit like Stephen Fry: Branagh = instant ‘clever’ for the media mediocrity power classes? IE: Stick him on your chat show for a bit. Then get back to Ant and Dec. Etc..
Will I watch BELFAST? ‘Course I will. Reluctantly so, because I believe it ticks Oscar bait boxes and I loathe the trailer in every way. But I will view and indeed re-view, objectively. It’s a date! Everyone else seems to love it.
I just still think that the best of Branagh was in the early 1990s and he has never truly topped or even equalled said. Sentiment? Maybe. But also, empirical FACT. Ken was an innovator.
He brought Shakespeare to new and vivid life, on film, without ever dumbing down. Great casts were assembled in novel ways. Communities built.
Pastoral work of truly open hearted nature was done via Branagh, notably for the ‘Family Service Units’ charity. Street Theatre grit met Hollywood glam! Inspirational fusion.
A true ‘Renaissance’ ensued, thereby mirroring the name of his own production company back then. No vanity. Pure utility. THAT is the standard to which I held the man. And once he meets it again? I will be first in line to say ‘well done, Sir Ken!’.
Meantime? This #TBT. I give you three of the best Branagh brilliant pieces.
- MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING:
This 1993 gem is PERFECT as a Shakespeare movie, rom-com, historical epic, ensemble acting display and feel good romp. Michael Keaton is at his funniest here, bringing an otherwise neglected side character in the play to a new and hilarious incarnation.
Notice, too: DENZEL!! At no stage does anyone mention the man’s race (it aint OTHELLO). He is just ‘there’: radiating power, star presence and a poetic mastery of the text which we now see again in his MACBETH (Scottish play/movie). Emma Thompson is at her sexiest here, too. Gorgeous curls, legs and diction.
- IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER :
An experimental art film, shot on shoestring budget, in haste, but beautifully so. Sexy Joan Collins makes an appearance! It’s a lesson in friendship, community, stage and film craft. And conveniently it served as a kind of dress rehearsal for..
This play is part of my dramatic and cultural DNA. Started with a crush on a girl who played Gertrude. Jane. She was magnificent. I was tasked with guarding her props. I swear I can still smell the perfume on that hairband and feel the strong shard of electricity that bolted through me as the girl took my hand, backstage, to see if I was ok. Wonderful Girl! I digress.
Needless to say? Hamlet is the role every actor wants to master and every director wishes to stage. I have a version of it in my own mind (make it a paradoxical fusion of 1930s – 60s: Hamlet as exiled hippy, back for revenge as powers change?).
Is Ken a great Danish Prince? He’s fine. Nobody can beat Olivier (Richard McCabe came close; Tennant and Cumberbatch..didn’t, imho: sorry!).
But what a BRILLIANT FILM! THIS is Branagh, the great director. He casts the piece perfectly (Kate Winslet is a BORN Jooolia..I mean, sorry: Ophelia!). Even the cameos make sense, fitting the play within a play conceit. Jack Lemmon! Charlton Heston! Wow!
Yes, the piece is LONG. But there is an interval. Just like Theatre, made real/reel. I love this movie. It deserved bigger plaudits and box office and ought have initiated an annual run of Branagh Shakespeare on film events.
SEE ALSO: THOR (underrated Marvel movie gem and the TRUE start of its ‘shared universe’ imho).
And: JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (Shame they went with prequel/reboot instead of just making the Clooney as President Ryan in Executive Orders pitch; but still massive fun).
So: there you have it. I do not ‘diss’ Sir Ken. I just hold him to an higher standard of excellence than the average mortal. 😉