Kenneth Branagh, the survivor who went from Shakespeare to ‘Thor’ and tabloids to Oscars | cultural | icon

He had everything against him: an actor (Armie Hammer) accused of sexual abuse and cannibalistic paraphilias, two secondary performers (Letitia Wright and Russell Brand) dedicated to spreading the anti-vaccine conspiracy, an actress (Gal Gadot) relativizing the offensive of his country, Israel, against Palestine, a pandemic that empties cinemas… And yet, death on the nile It is no longer the failure at the box office announced for two years, the time that the film has spent on the shelves of its distributor, Disney, like the elephant in the room. Filmed for 20th Century Fox in 2019, the year the Disney conglomerate acquired the company, and originally slated for release in 2020, successive casting controversies have turned a luxury production into a poisoned heirloom that has also functioned as a sequel to the highly profitable Murder on the Orient Express (2017).

Curiously, the abuse accusations against Johnny Depp didn’t affect her commercially either, although the actor’s screen time was much shorter than Hammer’s. Disney even considered replacing it with reshoots (like what happened with Kevin Spacey in all the money in the world), but he ruled it out due to the complexity of the operation and, eventually, he discovered that the cure for his headaches had always been before him.

With a release date strategically placed after Oscar nominations, death on the nile has ceased to be the film with a thousand scandals to become the new work of the prestigious Irish filmmaker and actor Kenneth Branagh, a solid contender for the big prizes of the season for his other title on the bill, Belfast. In Spain last weekend, Branagh’s two films were among the ten most-watched, performing well by pandemic standards (death on the nilewith more than 800,000 euros, achieved the second best opening so far this year, while Belfast raised more than a million), especially since both are aimed at the audience that costs the most to return to the cinema: adults. death on the nile globally recouped 75% of its $90 million budget within days, garnered better reviews than Murder on the Orient Express and, ultimately, subverted expectations in the best tradition of adapting author Agatha Christie.

But that’s only Branagh’s second achievement this year: thanks to Belfast, the director and performer became the person with the most nominations in different categories in Oscar history, seven, one above the record’s previous owners, Walt Disney and George Clooney. The three he made this year in Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture (a category he chooses as a producer) add to his nomination as Best Actor in 1990 for Henry V (for which he was already named director), best short film in 1993 for swan songBest Adapted Screenplay in 1997 for Hamlet and Best Supporting Actor in 2012 for My week with Marilyn. A feat in phase with the character. “Branagh loves heroes, from Henry V and Hamlet to Poirot [el detective de Asesinato en el Orient Express y Muerte en el Nilo] and from Thor to the children of Belfast. For him, the director is another version of the hero, who manages a gigantic and expensive art form and delivers the finished project on time and under budget”, reflects, consulted by ICON, Samuel Crowl, professor emeritus of English at Ohio University. .

Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson and Clint Eastwood at a party in Los Angeles in 1993.Ron Galella (Ron Galella collection via Getty)

Academically focused on the work of William Shakespeare, Crowl has investigated, over the years, the various adaptations that Kenneth Branagh has made of the texts of The Bard, a constant in his career: “He has an astonishing ability to unite Shakespeare and Hollywood , is not afraid to appropriate established film genres: the epic in Hamletthe musical film in labors of love lostor the sitcom in A lot of noise for nothing. He dares to show off in front of the camera, as in the long tracking shot after the battle of Agincourt in Henry V and the four uncut minutes shot on Steadicam at the end of Noisy... By paying equal attention to word and image, Branagh brings Shakespeare to life on film.

Like the characters in the partly autobiographical film Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s family emigrated to England when he was 9 to escape conflict in Northern Ireland. Although he adopted his characteristic and almost clumsy accent, as he repeatedly stated, to cope with the bullying he suffered for not speaking like other children, Shakespeare did not enter in his life as part of a process to become the most English. of the world: for Branagh, initially there was not Shakespeare, but Derek Jacobi. I went to the theater [a la representación de Hamlet] because I had seen Derek Jacobi on TV doing Me Claude and I loved it. I read an ad that said he was playing and I went, but I had no idea about Shakespeare,” Branagh said in a 1997 interview of his discovery at age 15 of the language’s greatest writer. English. “I was absolutely overwhelmed with the energy of the work. I walked out thinking I had some kind of life force.

Since then, Derek Jacobi has starred in five of Branagh’s films, in addition to co-starring with him on several occasions in film and theater. Emma Thompson, who was married to the Irishman in the 90s, his ex-girlfriend Helena Bonham Carter or even Judi Dench are the other recurring faces who bring a singularity to a filmography frequently criticized for its scattering. Although Dr. Samuel Crowl believes there is internal consistency, and that consistency can be found, again, through Shakespeare. For the academic, the resonances shakespearean they set the pattern for his stories: “Shakespeare’s plays are structured around fractured and repaired families in comedies and fractured and destroyed families in tragedies. Branagh’s films follow a similar pattern, both when the families are real and in Belfastas when they were created, as in In the heart of raw winter“, he explains to ICON.

Kenneth Branagh in
Kenneth Branagh in “Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein,” a 1994 project that received poor reviews.DAVID APPLEBY (Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

It is also not difficult to trace how, in addition to the classic models to which his blockbuster movie seemingly more impersonal for Marvel and Disney, in Thor Where Cinderella is the path par excellence of certain characters who must acquire the qualities of good rulers, just like the protagonist of Henry V. For Dr Crowl, these incursions of Branagh into popular cinema are, in fact, coherent: the boundaries between arthouse cinema and multi-screen cinema, just as Shakespeare’s plays did between Court and Globe audiences.

There is another dimension of Branagh’s character which is now forgotten in favor of his profession, but which in the 1990s obsessed the British press and much of the world’s press: his status as a leading man. Branagh and Emma Thompson, who were married from 1989 to 1995, have been hailed as the golden couple in British industry. In 1993, she won an Oscar for Return to Howard’s End. Thompson’s star was beginning to obscure Branagh’s. In 1994, he responded with a very personal version of Frankenstein in which he spent $40 million, fought in the gym and received the worst reviews of his acting and directing career. He also began an affair with the film’s female star, Helena Bonham-Carter, which led to Thompson’s divorce. This relationship also ended in 1999. Since then, Branagh married art director Lindsay Brunnock and remained outside the tabloid press. Today, to his greatest relief, he appears in culture.

Boris Johnson enters the barrel

As an actor, Kenneth Branagh made accents an art. In the two films where he plays the famous detective Hercule Poirot, Branagh composes an eccentric version of the character created by Agatha Christie, not only through his disproportionate mustache (which death on the nile reserves an entire prologue to tell its story and its origins), but with its extreme Belgian pronunciation, which gives the adaptations a buffoonish tone. Although we don’t know how his assimilation of Swedish would have been in the BBC series Wallanderwhere it was decided to keep the local Scandinavian references from Henning Mankell’s books but not the speech, Branagh also exhibited a Teutonic accent in Valkyrie and, most recently, a Russian accent as the villain in Jack Ryan: Operation Shadow and Principle. The latter film, directed by Christopher Nolan, motivated playwright Ang Collins to write a fiery defense of the actor, whom she deemed “deserving the same cult status as Nicolas Cage”.

Kenneth Branagh chats with Pedro Almodóvar at a Deadline magazine meet-and-greet in Los Angeles in November 2021.
Kenneth Branagh chats with Pedro Almodóvar at a Deadline magazine meet-and-greet in Los Angeles in November 2021.Amy Sussman (Getty Images for Deadline)

“Take it it’s spectacularly bad. So much that I loved him. And one of the main reasons was Kenneth Branagh,” Collins began in his post for Guardian. “As disparate as his roles are, as out of place as his cinematic tastes seem, as many times as he finds it acceptable to remove that awful Russian accent from his manga, when I see Branagh on screen, I really feeling that he likes his character work (…) You can ask him to put on a Russian accent, to go out in wild wild west or glide across the sunscreen-coated deck of a yacht. His performance will always be full, unconditional, passionate and over the top. He’s your funny Hollywood uncle, if only your uncle had a penchant for fake mustaches, hair dyes and imprecise accents.

The final link in Branagh’s chameleonism was British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whom he plays in the yet unreleased television series This Sceptrean Isleby Julian Jarrold and Michael Winterbottom. With a premiere scheduled for the fall, the series reenacts the early days of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK, which had Johnson himself in intensive care. The first pictures of shakespearean The performers made up and dressed like the Prime Minister were received on the network between a certain amazement and surprise at the resemblance.

Being already filmed, it seems unlikely that This Sceptrean Isle fetching the newly uncovered scandal of parties Johnson attended during lockdown, albeit after comparing himself to Othello and his former adviser Dominic Cummings (the Brexit ideologue) to Iago, or knowing that the president contacted scholars to write an essay on Shakespeare in the shadows under his paternity, all indications are that Branagh, again, made no missteps.

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