Belfast born Sir Kenneth Branagh is a five-time Academy Award nominee, Emmy and BAFTA award winner, knighted bachelor and national treasure. Known equally for his roles on stage, screen and television his career has spanned decades and has included a wide range of roles from Shakespearian greats to fictional monsters and narcissistic wizards.
His work behind the scenes particularly as a director has gained much praise, with modern films such as his live-action take on Disney's 'Cinderella' gaining critical acclaim. He recently co-directed a new production of Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' in which he also starred, which ran at the Manchester International Festival and later transferred to New York where he made his New York début.
This season will see the arrival of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company in the West End, with a whole year's worth of productions programmed at the Garrick Theatre, ranging from lost plays to popular Shakespeare texts and dramatic reinventions. As well as directing and producing, Branagh will also star in a number of productions alongside esteemed actors such as Dame Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Tom Bateman and Zoë Wanamaker.
We took a look at some of Branagh's most iconic roles over the past three decades:
Branagh originally starred in this history play in 1984 at the Barbican Theatre in a production directed by Adrian Noble for the RSC. He went on to direct a successful film version of the play which was released in 1989 and co-starred Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane, Brian Blessed, Christian Bale and Emma Thompson, who he would later go on to marry. The film was met with great critical and popular acclaim, and is regarded by many as one of the greatest film adaptations of Shakespeare in modern times. Starring in the lead role of Henry V, Branagh was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor and Best Director, and took home a BAFTA Award for Best Director.
In a departure to classic stage texts, Branagh directed and starred in a new adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1994 which is considered to be the most faithful film version of the novella, despite a number of key differences. Branagh stars as Victor Frankenstein alongside Robert De Niro as 'The Creation' and Helena Bonham Carter as Frankenstein's fiancée Elizabeth, alongside supporting cast members John Cleese, Jenny Galloway and Celia Imrie. The film marked a departure to many of the traditional 'Frankenstein' films and managed to shed the 'B-movie' vibe with which many others have been associated. The film performed well at the box office and many celebrated Branagh's direction and acting.
Branagh returned to Shakespeare on film with his 1996 triumph 'Hamlet' where he once again directed and starred in the title role. Clocking in at over four hours, it was the first filmed unabridged version of the text with the action transferred to 19th century London. Once again elements of the film were based on the RSC's stage version directed by Adrian Noble, in which Branagh had already played the lead role. Despite being a critical success, the film was a commercial disaster, grossing just $4million out of a whopping $18million budget. Once again Branagh was nominated for an Academy Award, this time for Best Adapted Screenplay, but didn't win.
The last time Branagh was on-stage in London was for the inaugural production in the Donmar's West End season at the Wyndham's Theatre back in 2008. Chekhov's 'Ivanov' saw him take on an iconic role in a new adaptation by Tom Stoppard, alongside Andrea Riseborough, Gina McKee and Tom Hiddleston. The production was met with five star raves across the board, with critics calling it the best performance Branagh had ever given, saying that the Michael Grandage directed production was “spot-on”, “richly intelligent”, “wondrous” and “just the West End ticket”.
After living his life in the shadow of Laurence Olivier, Branagh got to play him in the 2011 romantic drama 'My Week With Marilyn' – a film that depicts the making of the 1957 film 'The Prince and the Showgirl', which starred Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier. Michelle Williams played the iconic role of Marilyn Monroe opposite Eddie Redmayne as the casual object of her affection. Branagh was nominated once again for an Academy Award, this time in the Best Supporting Actor category, but failed to win. His portrayal of the eccentric British actor was received well, with many noting the obvious parallels between their careers.
Perhaps the most-watched performance given by Branagh was as he stepped into Mark Rylance's shoes for the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in London. He played a pivotal part of Danny Boyle's conceptual opening which was watched by almost 900million people all around the globe. Delivering a speech from Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' following the 'Isle of Wonder' theme, he was dressed as Brunel, the imposing figure of the Industrial Revolution who recently was voted second place in the “Greatest Britons” poll as a heroic symbol of the Industrial Revolution.
In anticipation of their collaboration for the Garrick Season, Branagh worked alongside director and choreographer Rob Ashford on a new production of Macbeth which ran at the Manchester International Festival in 2013. The production was widely well received by critics and played to sold out audience, as well as being filmed for cinema broadcast. Rather than transfer to London, the production transferred to New York, running at the Park Avenue Armory, marking Branagh's New York City debut. The production was staged in St Peter's in Ancoats church, which allowed the audience to feel up close and personal to the action in a seemingly untraditional venue, that was supplemented by blood, fire, mud and rain to create a powerful and immersive experience. Since the production, Hollywood director Martin Scorsese has expressed interest in turning it into a film, with Branagh reprising his role as the ambitious anti-hero. Perhaps that Oscar is finally around the corner!