Kenneth Branagh
(1960 - )

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Kenneth Branagh has been one of the key Shakespeare interpreters of the late 20th century. At the age of nine, Branagh moved with his family from Northern Ireland to London. He was bookish, athletic and assumed an English accent at school - he became interested in acting at the age of 15, after seeing Derek Jacobi perform Hamlet (the two would later collaborate numerous times both in film and on the stage). Immersing himself in all things theatrical, Branagh was accepted at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London when he was 18, where he would later receive acclaim for his performances in Hamlet and Henry V. Often compared to Laurence Olivier, Branagh was noted for his magnetic and often whimsical performances. In 1987 he left the RSC to co-found the Renaissance Theatre Company, for which he served as actor, writer, and director.

Although Renaissance struggled at first, although its premiere effort - a production of 'Public Enemy', met with across-the-board disapproval, it soon gained a reputation for quality work, and counted such celebrated performers as Judi Dench, Richard Briers, and Derek Jacobi among its ranks, many of whom were later cast in Branagh's directorial debut, Henry V. The 1989 film, a sober, mud-saturated affair that served as a stark contrast to Olivier's 1944 version brought Branagh international acclaim and recognition. He was soon being hailed by many a publication as "the next Olivier," a title which he repeatedly stated made him uncomfortable. The next Olivier or not, Branagh was nominated for Best Director and Best Actor Oscars for his work, and went on to win other honors, including British Academy and National Board of Review Best Director awards.

His co-star in the movie, Emma Thompson, was an actress he had met while filming a television series. They were married in 1989 and appeared together in many film and stage productions.

Riding high on this success, Branagh rather cheekily published his autobiography, ‘Beginning’, at the advanced age of 28. Although it was labeled a little premature and more than a little ego-driven, the book further played into his mystique, which was heightened in 1991 with his Hollywood debut. That year, he directed and starred opposite Thompson and Sir Derek Jacobi in ‘Dead Again’, a stylish, Hitchcock-inspired romantic thriller. The film was both a critical and commercial success, and the two were soon being labeled "the royal couple of British cinema."

Branagh's next effort, the 1992 ensemble comedy 'Peter's Friends', was critically not very successful but I have to admit I did enjoy it. Starring Branagh, Thompson, co-writer Rita Rudner, and comedians Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, it received some positive reviews, but was largely regarded as a disappointment. Fortunately for Branagh, he had better luck that year with the Bard, turning out a sun-soaked, giddy adaptation of 'Much Ado About Nothing', which found favor with audiences and critics alike. That same year, he garnered additional acclaim, directing the short film 'Swan Song' and winning an Best Live Action Short Academy Award nomination for his work.







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