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About Sir Kenneth Charles Branagh
Once hailed as the "new Laurence Olivier," Shakespearean-trained actor and director Kenneth Branagh struggled throughout his career to balance his near-obsessive drive to work with the need for a somewhat normal, settled life. After his directorial breakthrough with his excellent interpretation of The Bard's Henry V (1989), Branagh had what appeared to many to be the picture-perfect life: a beautiful wife in Emma Thompson, a thriving career - thanks to his deft thriller Dead Again (1991) - and a reputation replete with an air of seriousness and unerring artistic credibility. But on the inside, Branagh claimed to have been going a bit mad - a realization exacerbated by his separation from Thompson and the debacle of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1995). Later in life, he learned how to relax every now and then, but continued to push himself to greater artistic heights, sometimes to the point of failure, as with Hamlet (1996) and Love's Labour's Lost (2000). He rebounded, however, with a marvelous performance as a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Warm Springs (HBO, 2005), followed by an acclaimed turn as a brilliant but dysfunctional detective in the Wallander (PBS, 2009) miniseries and a return to the director's chair for the superhero smash Thor (2011). With his heralded body of work as an actor, writer and director, Branagh had long emerged from Olivier's shadow to be recognized as one of the more formidable filmmakers of his generation.
Born on December 10, 1960 in Belfast, Ireland, the middle of three children, his parents were working-class Protestant Frances (née Harper) and William Branagh, a plumber and joiner who ran a company that specialised in fitting partitions and suspended ceilings.
At the age of nine, he relocated with his family to Reading, Berkshire to escape the Troubles. He was educated at Grove Primary School, Whiteknights Primary School, then Meadway School, Tilehurst, where he appeared in school productions such as Toad of Toad Hall and Oh, What a Lovely War!. Branagh went on to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
In 1984 he joined the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, where he received acclaim for his performances in Hamlet and Henry V.
In 1985 he founded the Renaissance Theatre Company. Productions which Branagh either wrote, starred in, or directed include Public Enemy, Twelfth Night, The Life of Napoleon, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Hamlet, Look Back in Anger, Uncle Vanya, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Coriolanus.
Branagh directed the hit stage comedy The Play What I Wrote, which transferred from London’s West End to Broadway and received a Tony nomination. He returned to the stage in Richard III at the Sheffield Crucible to great acclaim, and to the London stage with Mamet’s Edmond at the National Theatre.
His first venture into film met instant success. His 1989 production of Henry V won a score of international awards, including Academy Award nominations for Best Actor and Best Director. Branagh was subsequently invited to Hollywood to direct and star in Dead Again, which was a huge international hit. He next directed the ensemble film Peter’s Friends, which won the Evening Standard Peter Sellers Award for Comedy.
His second Shakespearean film success was Much Ado About Nothing, and in the same year his short film of the Chekhov play Swan Song received an Academy Award nomination.
He went on to direct Robert De Niro in the financially successful Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. His black-and-white film In the Bleak Midwinter (A Midwinter’s Tale) opened the 1996 Sundance Film Festival and won the prestigious Osello d’Oro at the Venice Film Festival.
His critically acclaimed full-length version of Hamlet, in 70mm, received 4 Academy Award nominations. Branagh’s fourth Shakespeare film adaptation was a 1930’s musical version of Love’s Labour’s Lost.
More recently, Branagh directed HBO Films’ As You Like It, a film of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, and Sleuth, written by Harold Pinter and starring Jude Law and Michael Caine. His other film work includes acting roles in: Pat O’Connor’s A Month in the Country, Oliver Parker’s Othello, Robert Altman’s The Gingerbread Man, Woody Allen’s Celebrity, Danny Boyle’s Alien Love Triangle, Paul Greengrass’s The Theory of Flight, Barry Sonnenfeld’s Wild Wild West, Philip Noyce’s Rabbit Proof Fence, and the second Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – Branagh starred as Gilderoy Lockhart, Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts, with a richly comic performance.
Branagh appeared in three outstanding television dramas: Shackleton for Channel 4 and A&E; Conspiracy, for which he won an Emmy as Best Actor and a Golden Globe nomination; and Warm Springs, in which he played FDR and was nominated for an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a SAG Award.
In 2008 he filmed a lead role in the new Richard Curtis comedy The Boat That Rocked and returned to London’s West End in the title role of Chekhov’s Ivanov. Several critics lauded his return to the stage, with the Daily Mail, Guardian and Independent awarding five-star reviews. His adaptation of the lead character led to statements such as "performance of the year" being made and Quentin Letts, the Daily Mail's theatre critic, mentioned his "world class talent". However, in a rather shocking outcome, Branagh's comeback performance did not win him a Laurence Olivier Award nomination, although he secured the Critics' Circle Award for Best Male Performance. Branagh went on to star in a major BBC TV crime series as Detective Kurt Wallander from Henning Mankell’s best-selling thrillers, with the first three films being aired on BBC One in November and December 2008. The role won him a British Academy Television Award for Best Actor and a Broadcasting Press Guild Award for Best Actor, with three nominations including a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor also coming in. The same year also saw him co-star with Tom Cruise and a host of other fine British actors in Bryan Singer's historical thriller Valkyrie.
A multilingual actor, Branagh is married to Lindsay Brunnock, a film art director he wedded in 2003. This is his second attempt at marriage, the first one being with British actress Emma Thompson. The two tied the knot in August 1989, but the union ended in divorce in 1995.