Kenneth Branagh Filmfest

When I was married — to a career actor, if you can say that of someone who went onstage more often for love than for money — we went to a back-to-back showing of two Henry V films: the classic Olivier and Kenneth Branagh’s. You may well have seen them both. After the lights came up at the end of Branagh’s version, my late-and-ex-husband turned to me with tears standing in his eyes (Patrick Doyle’s score had a little to do with this too, I’m sure) and said in a shaky voice: “The Olivier was a cute little film, wasn’t it?”

I don’t swoon as a rule but, especially after seeing Much Ado About Nothing, I became prone to state that Kenneth Branagh could put his shoes under my bed any time. (In his tasty little memoir Beginning, he remarked that in an early stage production of Henry V, his performance struck one director as “too romantic”: “I found it extraordinary that a short-arsed, fat-faced Irishman could come across as too romantic,” he said, or something close to that.)

I took this week off to rest my hands and indulged in a miniature Branagh filmfest. I had never seen his performance as Reinhard Heydrich — the production was a made-for-HBO dramatization of the Wannsee Conference — and it had been ten years since I originally viewed an undeservedly obscure little piece titled How To Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog.

(Neighbor’s Dog: Branagh portrays a playwright who’s becalmed in his writing. His wife wants a kid and he can’t stand the thought; he pretty much hates kids [like me]. His neighbor’s dog barks at night and he fantasizes about killing it [like me]. All he wants is to be left alone [like me, most days], except that he’s quite put about to find how fond he is of his other neighbor’s daughter, whose mother seems determined to turn her mild handicap into a life sentence of helplessness. It’s one of the wittiest, most honest, and most unaccountably unsung movies I know, not least because it doesn’t leave you with neat resolutions and final answers.)

Does that give you whiplash, or what?

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5 thoughts on “Kenneth Branagh Filmfest

  1. I’ve always rated Ken’s talents highly – and I definitely prefer his Henry V over Olivier’s.

    Haven’t seen How To Kill Your Neighbour’s Dog (though I can ENTIRELY sympathise with the sentiment behind it) so I shall have to track it down.

    I think his Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing is wonderful. he could put his shoes under my bed, too 🙂

  2. Another one that no one seems to have seen is Midwinter (writing and directing, not acting). And every Branagh fan in America especially loved Dead Again. Not just because of the weird Hitchcock noir plot and the over the top romance (Kenneth slow dancing on a rooftop in the rain with the Mysterious Amnesiac Woman… nuff said) but because we all plotzed when he opened his mouth and a pitch perfect crass American accent came out.

  3. I’ve never heard of Neighbour’s Dog before and a quick Amazon.co.uk check shows it being sold as part of a double feature with… Side By Side with Sid Caesar and Danny Thomas?! What the hell, it’s only about 5 euros for both. On my list!

    I do like Kenneth, and especially how he has made Shakespeare more accessible with his brilliant productions.

  4. Wallander! You have to see his Wallander!
    I fell for him when I was, ooh, 12, and saw a late-night showing of Christopher Hampton’s ‘The Lady’s Not For Burning’. (They should keep stuff like that away from pubescent girls. We develop a taste for thin-lipped potato-faced Irishmen that’s hard to disavow.) My long-suffering mother was dragged to London to see him in the Renaissance Theatre double-bill of Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It, and she walked out with a beatific expression, saying “That’s the first time I’ve ever really understood Shakespeare.” For that moment alone, I love Ken. For quite a few since, actually, with the exception of the moments that comprised ‘Frankenstein’. Those were, um, less than good.

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