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?