"I first encountered Shakespeare when I was about fourteen years old, and it really made no sense. I then went to see a play when I was fifteen years old, and it changed my life."Sir Kenneth Charles Branagh (born December 10, 1960) is a British actor and director.He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the son of Irish Protestants. In his early 20s he began to make a name for himself in British theater. He spent much of the 1980s appearing in several well-received Shakespeare productions, as well as a 1989 production of Look Back in Anger co-starring Emma Thompson.In 1989 he made himself an international star by directing and starring in a spectacularly successful film adaptation of Henry V. From 1989 to 1996 he appeared mostly in films he directed himself, such as another hit Shakespeare adaptation, 1993's Much Ado About Nothing, yet another Shakespeare adaptation with a four-hour Hamlet in 1996, as well as the thriller Dead Again and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Most of these films also co-starred Emma Thompson; the two were married from 1989 to 1995.The box-office failure of his return to Shakespeare with Love's Labours Lost in 2000 sent his directing career into the doldrums for several years. He continued to act, however, taking Large Ham Up to 11 with his portrayal of Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and playing occasional British Nazis (Conspiracy, Valkyrie). In 2011 he got a Casting Gag role as Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn—Branagh has often been compared to Oliver, as both of them directed themselves in filmed versions of Henry V and Hamlet. He got a gig directing the 2011 film Thor, his biggest directing project since Hamlet, and has directed several more films in the years since, including a live-action remake of Disney's beloved Cinderella and an All-Star Cast adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express in which he stars as Hercule Poirot.His television credits include an award-winning performance as Kurt Wallander in the Wallander series (2008-2012) based on the novels of Henning Mankell, as well as the TV-movie Shackleton about Ernest Shackleton and the desperate journey of the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. He was also the narrator of the Walking with Dinosaurs series.Granted knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in June 2012.He played Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the 2012 London Olympic Games opening ceremony.
Films Branagh has directed
- Henry V (1989) (also starred)
- Dead Again (1991) (also starred)
- Peter's Friends (1992) (also starred)
- Swan Song (1992)(short film)
- Much Ado About Nothing (1993) (also starred)
- In the Bleak Midwinter (1995)
- Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1996) (also starred)
- Hamlet (1996) (also starred)
- Love's Labour's Lost (2000) (also starred)
- As You Like It (2006)
- The Magic Flute (2006)
- Sleuth (2007) (Creator Cameo)
- Thor (2011)
- Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) (also starred)
- Cinderella (2015)
- Murder on the Orient Express (2017) (also starred)
Branagh as actor only:
- Swing Kids (1993)
- Othello (1995)
- Celebrity (1998)
- Wild Wild West (1999)
- The Road to El Dorado (2000) (voice)
- Conspiracy (2001)
- Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
- Warm Springs (2005)
- Valkyrie (2008)
- Wallander (TV series) (2008-2015)
- The Boat That Rocked (2009)
- My Week With Marilyn (2011)
- Dunkirk (2017)
Tropes associated with Kenneth Branagh include:
- Ability over Appearance: Invoked when he cast Idris Elba as Heimdall (see below).
- Black Vikings: Practically a trademark of his style. In Much Ado About Nothing, he cast Denzel Washington as the Prince of Castile; in Thor, it was Idris Elba as the Norse god Heimdall; and in Hamlet, there was a black soldier in the Norwegian army. The black guard captain in Cinderella (2015) was considered by some to also be a case, though there's actually some historical justification there (at least as far as the film's time period can even be nailed down).
- Large Ham: My Week With Marilyn, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
- The Oner: a trademark of his.
- Nice Hat: His Olympic Games role.
- Race Lift: He casts actors so blindly of their race that one suspects it's a deliberate habit. He does, however, cast really good actors, so it's not just some dumb, cheap stunt.
- His most blatant example of this took place early in his career. In Much Ado About Nothing he has Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves play brothers. Okay, half-brothers. Fair enough. One of them is the noble Duke that everyone respects and follows. The other is his bastard half-brother who is insulted over how everyone hates him because of his parentage and uses this as a justification to be the villain of the piece. The film is set in 19th century Europe. So who do you think plays the Duke and who plays the bastard? Wrong.
- His casting of Idris Elba as the Viking god Heimdall in Thor generated quite a bit of controversy (Heimdall is described in sagas as the 'whitest' of the gods). However, after seeing Elba's performance, many reviewers commented that if racist idiots are getting upset about a black actor playing a fictional, supposedly-white character (and less worried about a guy who throws a magic hammer), ol' Kenny must be doing something right. Also 'whitest' is only one translation, it's more along the lines of purity rather than coloration. Besides, the gods can look however they want one presumes.
- Real Men Love Jesus: Became a devout Christian after hearing Laurence Olivier, one of his childhood heroes, reading the Bible. He remains so to this very day.
- Scenery Porn: His movies nearly always feature lavish production design and sweeping camerawork that isn't afraid to show it off. His Hamlet and Murder on the Orient Express were also both shot in 65mm.
- Walk and Talk: He did it first.
References to Kenneth Branagh in fiction:
- In Blackadder Back and Forth, a time-travelling Blackadder meets William Shakespeare and beats him up in retribution for providing the tools with which centuries of students have been tormented. He adds an extra blow specifically for "Ken Branagh's endless, uncut, four-hour version of Hamlet".Shakespeare: Who's Ken Branagh?
Blackadder: I'll tell him you said that. And I think he'll be very hurt.