Kenneth Branagh

Sir Kenneth Branagh

Branagh in April 2011
Born Kenneth Charles Branagh
(1960-12-10) 10 December 1960
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Nationality British
Alma mater Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Occupation Actor, film director, film producer, screenwriter
Years active 1981–present
Home town Reading, Berkshire, England, UK
Spouse(s) Emma Thompson
(m. 1989; div. 1995)

Lindsay Brunnock
(m. 2003)
Partner(s) Helena Bonham Carter

Sir Kenneth Charles Branagh (/ˈbrænə/; born 10 December 1960)[1] is an actor, director, producer, and screenwriter originally from Belfast who was raised in England. Branagh trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He has directed or starred in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare's plays, including Henry V (1989) (for which he was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Director), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Othello (1995), Hamlet (1996) (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay), Love's Labour's Lost (2000), and As You Like It (2006).

He has also starred in numerous other films and television series including Fortunes of War (1987), Woody Allen's Celebrity (1998), Wild Wild West (1999), The Road to El Dorado (2000), Conspiracy (2001), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Warm Springs (2005), Valkyrie (2008), The Boat That Rocked (2009), Wallander (2008–present), and My Week with Marilyn (2011) as Sir Laurence Olivier (Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor). He has directed such notable films as Dead Again (1991) in which he also starred, Swan Song (1992) (Academy Award nominated for Best Live Action Short Film), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) in which he also starred, The Magic Flute (2006), Sleuth (2007), the blockbuster superhero film Thor (2011), the action thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) in which he also co-stars, and Cinderella (2015).

He also narrated the BBC documentary miniseries' Walking with Dinosaurs (starred in 1999) (as well as The Ballad of Big Al), Walking with Beasts (2001) and Walking with Monsters (2005). Branagh has been nominated for five Academy Awards, five Golden Globes, and has won three BAFTAs, and an Emmy. He was appointed a knight bachelor in the 2012 Birthday Honours and was knighted on 9 November 2012.[2]

Early life

Branagh, the middle of three children, was born and raised in Belfast, the son of working-class Protestant parents Frances (née Harper) and William Branagh, a plumber and joiner who ran a company that specialised in fitting partitions and suspended ceilings.[3] At the age of nine, he moved with his family to Reading, Berkshire, to escape the Troubles.[4][5] He was educated at Grove Primary School,[6] Whiteknights Primary School, then Meadway School, Tilehurst,[7][8] where he appeared in school productions such as Toad of Toad Hall[9] and Oh, What a Lovely War!.[10] At school, he acquired an English accent to avoid bullying. On his identity today he has said, "I feel Irish. I don't think you can take Belfast out of the boy," and he attributes his "love of words" to his Irish heritage.[11][12] He is known to have attended the (amateur) Reading Cine & Video Society (now called Reading Film & Video Makers)[13] as a member and was a keen member of Progress Theatre for whom he is now the patron. Branagh went on to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.[14]


Stage work

Branagh achieved some early measure of success in his native Northern Ireland for his role as Billy, the title character in the BBC's Play for Today[15] trilogy known as the Billy Plays (1982–84), written by Graham Reid and set in Belfast.

He received acclaim in the UK for his stage performances, first winning the 1982 SWET Award for Best Newcomer, for his role as Judd in Julian Mitchell's Another Country, immediately after leaving RADA. Branagh was part of the 'new wave’ of actors to emerge from the Academy. Others included Jonathan Pryce, Juliet Stevenson, Alan Rickman, Anton Lesser, Bruce Payne and Fiona Shaw. In 1984 he appeared in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Henry V, directed by Adrian Noble. The production played to full houses, especially at the Barbican in London. It was this production that he adapted for the film version of the play in 1989. He and David Parfitt founded the Renaissance Theatre Company in 1987, following success with several productions on the London 'Fringe', including Branagh's full-scale production of Romeo and Juliet at the Lyric Studio, co-starring with Samantha Bond. The first major Renaissance production was Branagh's Christmas 1987 staging of Twelfth Night at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, starring Richard Briers as Malvolio and Frances Barber as Viola, and with an original score by actor, musician and composer Patrick Doyle, who two years later was to compose the music for Branagh's film adaptation of Henry V. This Twelfth Night was later adapted for television.

Branagh became a major presence in the media and on the British stage when Renaissance collaborated with Birmingham Rep for a 1988 touring season of three Shakespeare plays under the umbrella title of Renaissance Shakespeare on the Road, which also played a repertory season at the Phoenix Theatre in London. It featured directorial debuts for Judi Dench with Much Ado About Nothing (starring Branagh and Samantha Bond as Benedick and Beatrice), Geraldine McEwan with As You Like It, and Derek Jacobi directing Branagh in the title role in Hamlet, with Sophie Thompson as Ophelia. Critic Milton Shulman of the London Evening Standard wrote: "On the positive side Branagh has the vitality of Olivier, the passion of Gielgud, the assurance of Guinness, to mention but three famous actors who have essayed the role. On the negative side, he has not got the magnetism of Olivier, nor the mellifluous voice quality of Gielgud nor the intelligence of Guinness."[16]

A year later in 1989 Branagh co-starred with Emma Thompson in the Renaissance revival of Look Back in Anger. Judi Dench directed both the theatre and television productions, presented first in Belfast then at the London Coliseum and Lyric Theatre.

In 2002, Branagh starred at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield as Richard III. In 2003 he starred in the Royal National Theatre's production of David Mamet's Edmond. Branagh directed The Play What I Wrote in England in 2001[17] and directed a Broadway production in 2003.[18][19] From September to November 2008, Branagh appeared at Wyndham's Theatre as the title character in the Donmar West End revival of Anton Chekhov's Ivanov in a new version by Tom Stoppard. His performance was lauded as the "performance of the year" by several critics.[20] It won him the Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Male Performance but did not get him a Laurence Olivier Award nomination, to the surprise of critics.[21]

In July 2013 he co-directed Macbeth at Manchester International Festival with Rob Ashford. With Branagh in the title role, Alex Kingston played Lady Macbeth and Ray Fearon featured as Macduff. The final performance of the completely sold out run, was broadcast to cinemas on 20 July as part of National Theatre Live.[22] He repeated his performance and directorial duties opposite Ashford and Kingston when the production moved to New York City's Park Avenue Armory in June 2014. The production marked his New York stage debut.[23]

In April 2015, Branagh announced his formation of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, in which he would appear as actor-manager. With the company, he announced he will present a season of five shows at London's Garrick Theatre from October 2015 - November 2016. The shows will be The Winter's Tale, a double bill of Harlequinade and All On Her Own, Red Velvet, The Painkiller, Romeo and Juliet and The Entertainer. Branagh will direct all but The Entertainer, in which he will star. Branagh will also star in The Winter's Tale, Harlequinade and The Painkiller. Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company also includes Judi Dench (The Winter's Tale), Zoë Wanamaker (Harlequinade/All On Her Own), Derek Jacobi, Lily James and Richard Madden (Romeo and Juliet) and Rob Brydon (The Painkiller). Kenneth Branagh Season In September 2015 was announced that The Winter's Tale, Romeo and Juliet and The Entertainer will be broadcast in cinemas, in partnership with Picturehouse Entertainment.[24]

Film work

Branagh is known for his film adaptations of William Shakespeare, beginning with Henry V (1989), followed by Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Hamlet (1996), Love's Labour's Lost (2000) and As You Like It (2006). As You Like It premiered in theatres in Europe, but was sent directly to television in the U.S., where it aired on HBO in August 2007. He was rumored to have been under consideration for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Notable non-Shakespeare films in which Branagh has appeared include Dead Again (1991) and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), both of which he also directed, Wild Wild West (1999), Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) and Valkyrie (2008). He starred as Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). He also played the Minister, Dormandy (a parody of PMG Tony Benn), in the film The Boat That Rocked (2009).

From 1989 to 1996, Branagh mostly directed his own films, including Peter's Friends with an outstanding cast including former schoolmates Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Tony Slattery and Stephen Fry, as well as Imelda Staunton and Rita Rudner; but the commercial and critical failure of Love's Labour's Lost ended his directorial career for a time. In 2006, the same year that Branagh's film version of As You Like It was released, he also directed a film version of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, which has yet to be released in the U.S., where it has not even been shown on cable television or released on a Region 1 DVD. Branagh has also directed the thriller Sleuth (2007), a remake of the 1972 film. At a film promotion for Valkyrie in 2008, Branagh confirmed that he would be directing Thor, a film based on the Marvel superhero.[25] Thor, Branagh's return to big-budget directing, was released on 6 May 2011.[26] In 2011, Branagh portrayed Sir Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn. Branagh directed Disney's live-action version of Cinderella (2015).[27] Branagh is to star in Christopher Nolan's 2017 action-thriller Dunkirk based on the British military evacuation of the French city of Dunkirk in 1940 during World War II. He will appear alongside Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Harry Styles.[28] Branagh is to direct and star in a film adaptation of Agatha Christie's detective novel Murder on the Orient Express. Production begins in London in November 2016, and will also star Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley and Johnny Depp.[29]


Branagh has also been involved in several made-for-TV films. Among his most acclaimed portrayals is that of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the film Warm Springs (2005), for which he received an Emmy Award nomination. Though the film received 16 Emmy nominations, winning five (including Best Made-For-Television Film), Branagh did not win the award for his portrayal. He did, though, receive an Emmy for his portrayal of SS leader Reinhard Heydrich in the TV film Conspiracy (2001), a depiction of the Wannsee Conference, where Nazi officials decided on the Final Solution. In 2002 Branagh starred in the two-part television movie Shackleton, a dramatization of the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition's battle for survival, for which he was nominated for a BAFTA award and an Emmy.[30] In 1998 he narrated the twenty-four episode documentary series Cold War.[31] Branagh also narrated the BBC documentaries Walking with Dinosaurs, World War 1 in Colour, Walking with Beasts and Walking with Monsters, and the BBC miniseries Great Composers.

Branagh is the star of the English-language Wallander television series, adaptations of Henning Mankell's best-selling Wallander crime novels. Branagh plays the eponymous Inspector Kurt Wallander and also serves as the executive producer of the series. The first series of three episodes were broadcast on BBC One in November and December 2008.[32] Branagh won the award for best actor at the 35th Broadcasting Press Guild Television and Radio Awards (2009). It was his first major television award win in the UK.[33] He received his first BAFTA TV on 26 April 2009 for the British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series.[34] For his performance in the episode One Step Behind, he was nominated in the Outstanding Actor, Miniseries or Movie category of the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards.[35] The role also gained him a nomination for Best Actor at the 2009 Crime Thriller Awards.[36] The second Wallander series of three episodes aired initially in January 2010 on the BBC, and the third season aired in July 2012.[37] The fourth and final series was shot from October 2014 to January 2015 and premiered on German TV, dubbed into German, in December 2015. The final series will air in the original English in May 2016.


Branagh has also played the title role in BBC radio broadcasts of Hamlet and Cyrano de Bergerac, and the role of Edmund in King Lear.[38]

Other work

Branagh has narrated several audiobooks, such as The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis.[39]

Branagh in July 2009 at the Roma Fiction Fest, where he was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award

Branagh participated in the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony portraying Isambard Kingdom Brunel during the Industrial Revolution segment, giving the speech from The Tempest originally read by the character Caliban.[40][41]

Personal life

From 1989 to 1995, Branagh was married to actress Emma Thompson, with whom he starred in Fortunes of War among other projects. During their marriage, and while directing and co-starring with Helena Bonham Carter in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, he began an affair with her. After Thompson divorced him, he and Bonham-Carter were in a well-publicised relationship for several years. In 2003, he married film art director Lindsay Brunnock,[42] whom he met during the shooting of Shackleton.[43]

He is a fan of English football club Tottenham Hotspur and Scottish football club Rangers.[44][45]

Branagh stated that listening to Laurence Olivier's narration of the Bible made him much more religious.[46]


Branagh has been nominated for five Academy Awards, the first man to be nominated for five different categories. His first two nominations were for Henry V (one each for directing and acting). He also received similar BAFTA Award nominations for his film work, winning one for his direction. His first BAFTA TV award came in April 2009, for Best Drama Series (Wallander). Branagh's two other Academy Award nominations were for the 1992 film short subject Swan Song and for his work on the screenplay of Hamlet in 1996. His most recent is for his portrayal of Lord Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn. Branagh has co-starred several times with actress Emma Thompson, to whom he was married from 1989 to 1995. They appeared together in Look Back in Anger, Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Dead Again, and Peter's Friends. More recently, they both appeared in The Boat That Rocked, though with no shared scenes.

He is Honorary President of NICVA (the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action). He received an honorary Doctorate in Literature from Queen's University of Belfast in 1990. He is also a patron for the charity Over The Wall.[47]

In 1994, Branagh declined an appointment as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).[48]

Branagh was the youngest actor to receive the Golden Quill (also known as the Gielgud Award) in 2000. In 2001 he was appointed an honorary Doctor of Literature at the Shakespeare Institute of The University of Birmingham; the Shakespeare Institute Library keeps the archive of his Renaissance Theatre Company and Renaissance Films.

Alongside Roberto Benigni, he is one of only two non-American actors to be nominated for Oscars for acting, writing, and directing, and one of eight actors to have achieved this honour. The other six are Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, George Clooney, John Huston and John Cassavetes.

On 10 July 2009, Branagh was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the RomaFictionFest.[49]

He was appointed a knight bachelor in the 2012 Birthday Honours for services to drama and to the community in Northern Ireland.[2][50] He received the accolade at Buckingham Palace on 9 November 2012; afterwards, Branagh told a BBC reporter that he was "humble, elated, and incredibly lucky" to be knighted.[2]

In October 2015, it was announced that Branagh would be the new President of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, succeeding the late Lord Attenborough.[51]



Award Year Project Category Result
Academy Awards 1989 Henry V Best Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1992 Swan Song Best Live Action Short Film Nominated
1996 Hamlet Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
2011 My Week with Marilyn Best Actor in a Supporting Role Nominated
BAFTA Awards 1987 Fortunes of War Best Actor – Television Nominated
1989 Henry V Best Actor in a Leading Role – Film Nominated
Best Direction – Film Won
2001 Conspiracy Best Actor – Television Nominated
Shackleton Best Actor – Television Nominated
2008 Wallander: One Step Behind Best Drama Series – Television Won
2009 Best Actor – Television Won
2011 My Week with Marilyn Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Film Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards 2011 My Week with Marilyn Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Broadcasting Press Guild 2008 Wallander: One Step Behind Best Actor Won
Cannes Film Festival 1993 Much Ado About Nothing Palme d'Or Nominated
Capri Award 2011 My Week with Marilyn Best Ensemble Cast Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards 1989 Henry V Best Actor Nominated
1996 Hamlet Best Actor Nominated
Detroit Film Critics Society 2011 My Week with Marilyn Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Emmy Awards 2001 Conspiracy Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Won
2002 Shackleton Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Nominated
2005 Warm Springs Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Nominated
2009 Wallander: One Step Behind Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Nominated
European Film Awards 1990 Henry V European Actor of the Year Won
Best Director Won
Young European Film of the Year Won
Golden Globe Awards 1993 Much Ado About Nothing Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
2001 Conspiracy Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
2005 Warm Springs Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
2009 Wallander: One Step Behind Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
2011 My Week with Marilyn Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Nominated
Golden Raspberry Award 1999 Wild Wild West Worst Supporting Actor Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards 1993 Much Ado About Nothing Best Film Nominated
London Film Critics' Circle 1993 Much Ado About Nothing British Producer of the Year Won
2002 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets British Supporting Actor of the Year Won
2011 My Week with Marilyn Supporting Actor of the Year Won
Olivier Awards 1982 Another Country Best Newcomer Won
1985 Henry V Best Actor Nominated
1988 As You Like It Best Comedy Performance Nominated
2004 Edmond Best Actor Nominated
2016 The Winter's Tale Best Actor Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Society Award 2011 My Week with Marilyn Best Supporting Actor Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Award 1996 Hamlet Best Actor Won
Sant Jordi Award 1989 Henry V Best Foreign Actor Won
Satellite Awards 2005 Warm Springs Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
2009 Wallander: One Step Behind Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
2011 My Week with Marilyn Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Nominated
Saturn Awards 1994 Frankenstein Best Actor Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards 1995 Othello Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role Nominated
2005 Warm Springs Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Nominated
2011 My Week with Marilyn Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role Nominated
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award 2011 My Week with Marilyn Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award 2011 My Week with Marilyn Best Supporting Actor Nominated

Discography and audiobooks

Further reading

See also


  1. "Monitor". Entertainment Weekly (1237): 26. 14 December 2012.
  2. 1 2 3 "Birthday Honours: Branagh, Winslet and royal designer Burton on list". BBC News. BBC. 16 June 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
  3. "Kenneth Branagh Biography". Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  4. "The Kenneth Branagh Compendium: Conspiracy". Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  5. White p.3
  6. White, p.2
  7. "My best teacher – Kenneth Branagh". TES Connect.
  8. "Berkshire's BAFTA Branagh". BBC Berkshire.
  9. "Meadway School Reunion – Staff Memories (Jim Morrison)".
  10. "KENNETH BRANAGH ARCHIVE" (PDF). Queen's University Belfast.
  11. "Kenneth Branagh - Biography". Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  12. "Kenneth Branagh". 27 February 2007. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  13. "RFVM History 1957–2012". Reading Film & Video Makers.
  14. "''The Times'', 20 February 2000". Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  15. White p.17
  16. Quoted in The London Stage in the 20th Century by Robert Tanitch, Haus (2007)
  17. Archer, Graeme (24 September 2001). "Branagh ready for the next stage". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  18. "The Play What I Wrote, a CurtainUp London and New York review". Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  19. "Talkin' Broadway Review: The Play What I Wrote". 30 March 2003. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  20. Staff writer (18 September 2008). "Rave reviews for Kenneth Branagh's West End return", Retrieved on 18 September 2008.
  21. Hoyle, Ben (4 February 2009). "David Tennant and Kenneth Branagh miss out on Olivier nominations", The Times, Times Newspapers. Retrieved on 22 February 2009.
  22. "Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston MACBETH Directed by Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh". Retrieved 2014-08-06.
  24. Porteous, Jacob (September 11, 2015). "Live Cinema Broadcasts And A First Look At Judi Dench In The Winter's Tale". London Theatre Direct. Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  25. "EXCLUSIVE: Kenneth Branagh Breaks Silence On 'Thor,' Says Casting Talk Is Premature". Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  26. "Thor Movie: Principal Photography Starts!". 11 January 2010. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  27. "Disney Negotiating With Kenneth Branagh to Direct Cinderella". 31 January 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  28. McNary, Dave (11 March 2016). "Harry Styles, Fionn Whitehead to Star in Christopher Nolan WW2 Action-Thriller 'Dunkirk'". Variety.
  29. "Daisy Ridley and Dame Judi Dench on board for Murder on the Orient Expres". BBC News. 30 September 2016.
  30. "Shackleton" awards.
  31. at Internet Archive
  32. "Killing time". Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  33. Douglas, Torin (27 March 2009). "Winners – 35th BPG Television and Radio Awards". Broadcasting Press Guild. Retrieved on 27 March 2009.
  34. "Television Awards Nominations 2009". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved on 24 March 2009.
  35. Martin, Lara (16 July 2009). "Emmys Awards 2009: The nominees". Digital Spy. Retrieved on 16 July 2009.
  36. Allen, Kate (7 September 2009). "Coben, Cole, Atkinson vie for crime awards". The Bookseller. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  37. "BBC One - Wallander, Series 3". BBC. 22 July 2012. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  38. "Shakespeare on Audio". Retrieved 2014-08-06.
  39. "Kenneth Branagh Book Search". Retrieved 15 January 2007.
  40. Boyle, Danny (28 July 2012). "Danny Boyle Welcomes The World To London". The Descrier. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
  41. "London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony Media guide" (PDF). Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  42. White p.271
  43. "Kenneth Branagh Biography". Tiscali UK. Retrieved 17 January 2007.
  44. "Kenneth Branagh on Tottenham Hotspur | Film | The Observer". Retrieved 2014-08-06.
  45. "606 - - A62848155 - Kenneth Branagh and Famous Fans". BBC. 2010-02-05. Retrieved 2014-08-06.
  46. Suskind, Alex (November 18, 2011). "Kenneth Branagh on Sir Laurence Olivier in 'My Week With Marilyn': 'He Was Impatient'". Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  47. Over The Wall official website
  48. "No Sir! Stars who refused honors". CNN. 21 December 2003. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  49. Lyman, Eric J. (12 June 2009). "Rome fest to honor Kenneth Branagh". The Hollywood Reporter. Nielsen Business Media. Archived from the original on 9 January 2014. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  50. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60173. p. 1. 16 June 2012.
  51. Furness, Hannah (2015-10-03). "Sir Kenneth Branagh made president of RADA to upstage the posh brigade". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2015-10-03.
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