Kenneth Branagh



  • (1961 - ) British actor and director, who atthe age of 25 co-founded the Renaissance Theatre Company. He was bornin Belfast, where his father was a joiner and his mother a mill worker.In 1970 the family moved to England; during summer holidays the youngBranagh hitchhiked with a tent to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the productions.In 1979 he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art(see RADA).

    Branagh acted on television before making his London debutin Julian Mitchell's Another Country at the Greenwich Theatre.For this he won two 'most promising newcomer' awards. In 1983 he presenteda one-man show, The Madness, which flopped disastrously atthe Upstream Theatre Club in London. One performance saw only 12 customersin the 150-seat auditorium. "And six of them," Branaghrecalled, "were my family."

    In 1984 he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford,and received rave reviews as the lead in Henry V (at 23 theyoungest actor the RSC had ever cast in the role). As usual, Branaghtook special pains to grasp the part, even arranging a meeting withPrince Charles to understand what it is like to be royal. During oneperformance when he reached for gloves at his belt and found themmissing, he trudged about the stage ad-libbing, "I bethinkstmyself that I did have some gloves...but see, alas, they arenot here..." Eventually a stagehand produced them.

    In 1986 Branagh invested £25,000 to found (with DavidParfitt) the Renaissance Theatre Company. He called it "acompany that would fully exploit the actor's imagination and energy".In 1988 the company presented Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing,and As You Like It in the provinces and the West End. It alsoinvited actors to direct, leading to successful productions by JudiDench, Geraldine McEwan, and Derek Jacobi. That year, the companymade its first film, Henry V, starring and directed by Branagh.One critic called his performance "comparable in stature toOlivier's". The following year he made a highly publicized marriageto the actress Emma Thompson (1959 - ) and publishedhis autobiography at the age of 28. His subsequent films as actor-directorinclude Much Ado About Nothing (1993), in which he co-starredwith Thompson, and a four-hour version of Hamlet (1997) thatopened to decidedly mixed reviews. He separated from Thompson in 1995.More recent work for the stage includes Richard III in Sheffield(2001), David Mamet's Edmond at the National Theatre (2003), andChekhov's Ivanov (2008) with the Donmar Warehouse.