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"I feel more Irish than English. I feel freer than British, more visceral, with a love of language. Shot through with fire in some way. That's why I resist being appropriated as the current repository of Shakespeare on the planet. That would mean I'm part of the English cultural elite, and I am utterly ill-fitted to be."
A versatile, Emmy-winning Northern Irish actor and film director, Kenneth Branagh has built a solid career in film, television and on stage. In 1987, he acquired worldwide acclaim and recognition with his movie version of Henry V. Portraying the title character, as well as directing, Branagh was honored with such awards as a New York Film Critics Circle Award, a National Board of Review Award, a BAFTA Award and a Chicago Film Festival Best Foreign Film Award. He was also nominated for Best Actor and Best Director at the Oscars. Probably the best-known Shakespeare interpreter of the late 20th century, Branagh once again turned film critics heads for his successful remake of the Shakespearean Much Ado About Nothing (1993), where he took home a London Critics Circle Film Award and a Guild of German Art House Cinemas Award. In the mid 1990s, his directing effort won a Venice Film Festival Award for his bright work in 1995s A Midwinters Tale. He continued attracting the attention of the public when Branagh directed, scripted and starred in his all-star, uncut, 1996 adaptation of Hamlet. As a result of his excellent work, he was honored with a San Diego Film Critics Society Award, an Evening Standard British Film Award, as well as received an Academy Award nomination. On the small screen, Kenneth Branagh gained wide critical appreciation for his portrayal of SS General Richard Heydrich in the television movie Conspiracy (2001), where he won an Emmy Award and earned nominations at the Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards. In 2002, the actor received Emmy and BAFTA nominations for his dazzling performance in the TV film Shackleton (2002).
On stage, Branagh made an impression with his starring role of a conflicted student in the 1982 production of "Another Country," opposite Rupert Everett. He picked up a Plays and Players London Theatre Critics Award and a Society of West End Theatres Award.
Off screen, Branagh has been awarded an honorary degree for his contribution in facilitating and popularizing William Shakespeare's work. As for his private life, Branagh has been married twice. He was first married to actress Emma Thompson in August 1989, but they divorced in October 1995. A year before the divorce, Branagh was linked with actress Helena Bonham in a much publicized romance of about five years. The couple, however, broke up in 1999, and Branagh next began dating actress Alicia Silverstone. On May 24, 2003, he married his second wife, Lindsay Brunnock.
Childhood and Family:
Kenneth Charles Branagh was born on December 10, 1960, to working-class parents. His father is William Branagh, a carpenter, and his mother is Frances Harper. He has one older brother named William Branagh Jr (born in 1955) and a younger sister named Joyce Branagh (born in 1970). A Belfast, Northern Ireland native, Kenneth spent his childhood in poverty in the shadows of a tobacco factory in Belfast until he was nine. He then moved with the rest of the family to Reading, England.
Bookish and sporty Kenneth discovered an interest in acting at age 15 after watching Derek Jacoby perform Hamlet. Three years later, he was accepted at the prestigious drama school, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, in which he became a star pupil. Kenneth once took home the schools popular Bancroft Award for his titular performance in a production of Hamlet.
At age 29, Kenneth decided to marry actress Emma Thomson, with whom he starred with in several films, but they divorced in October 1995, after a six-year marriage. Eight years later, on May 24, 2003, he secretly tied the knot with his new girlfriend Lindsay Brunnock in a small, private ceremony. He met Brunnock while in the Channel 4 production of the drama Shakleton.
Motivated by Derek Jacoby after seeing him perform Hamlet, 15-year-old Kenneth Branagh soon recognized that he wanted to try his hand in acting. Starting a brilliant career while a student at RADA, Branagh went on to further success on the West End Stage when he was cast in the starring role of a conflicted schoolboy, alongside Rupert Everett, in a production of "Another Country" (1982). His acting was so impressive that Branagh netted a Plays and Players London Theatre Critics Award and a Society of West End Theatres Award for Most Promising Newcomer in 1982, as well as picked up an English Theater Award that same year. A year before, his potential caught the attention of television audiences when he convincingly portrayed schizophrenic Robert Clyde Moffat in his TV miniseries debut "Maybury" (1981).
More television roles followed in the subsequent years. He landed the title character in the ABC trilogy Too Late to Talk to Billy (1982), A Matter of Choice for Billy (1983), and A Coming to Terms for Billy (1984), appeared as a student in the television movie Easter 2016 (1982), made an American television debut in To the Lighthouse (1983) and played Jack Grant in his second miniseries "Boy in the Bush" (1984). In 1985, he starred in his film debut Coming Through, opposite Helen Mirren, and his second, A Month in the Country, knocked on his door two years later.
On stage, Branagh joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984 and received repeated acclaim, particularly for his portrayal of Henry V. He also acted in several productions like "Love's Labour's Lost," "Hamlet" and "Golden Girls," among others, and began his behind-the-scene effort as director and writer in "Tell Me Honestly." Growing unhappy with RSCs technical organization and staleness, he left the company three years later and formed the Renaissance Theatre Company with his friend David Parfitt. In 1988, he was honored with a Special London Critics' Circle for his contribution to the company, a shared award with Parfitt.
Two years absence from film since High Season (1987), Branaghs big breakthrough arrived at the end of decade when he cast himself opposite Derek Jacobi and Simon Shepherd in his movie-directing debut Henry V (1989). His outstanding work won him international praise and recognition as an actor and director. Moreover, he nabbed many awards, including a New York Film Critics Circle for Best New Director, a National Board of Review for Best Director, a BAFTA for Best Achievement in Direction and a Chicago Film Festival Best Foreign Film. The film also brought him nominations at the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Actor.
Branaghs victory opened the door to direct in a Hollywood film. He started with 1991s Dead Again, in which he also starred with Emma Thompson. The romantic thriller earned positive reviews and was a commercial success, quickly making a reputation for the two actors as "the royal couple of British cinema." Back to the U.K, Branaghs next behind-the-camera effort, the ensemble comedy Peter's Friends (1992), was considered a flop though it received some critical raves. The film starred Branagh, Thomson, and comedians Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. The same year, Branagh nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short Film for his fine directing work in a short film based on a Chekhov playlet titled Swan Song, starring Richard Briers and John Gielgud.
The following year, Branagh garnered extra credits, directing, producing and acting, in the frivolous adaptation of the Shakespearean play, Much Ado About Nothing (1993). Starring Branagh, Thompson, Richard Briers, Keanu Reeves and Kate Beckinsale, the comedy/romance film won hearts of audiences and critics alike. For Branagh himself, he took home a 1994 London Critics Circle Film Award for British Producer of the Year and a Guild of German Art House Cinemas for Foreign Film.
Unfortunately, his follow-up, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), in which Branagh both directed and played a role as nutty doctor Victor Frankenstein, opposite Robert De Niro, was ill-received and became one of the worst films of the year. He then won a Venice Film Festival Award for Best Director in 1995 for the unsuccessful A Midwinters Tale and again struggled with a big screen dud with Oliver Parker's directorial debut Othello (1995).
In 1996, Branagh was back in the saddle again as he won overwhelmingly positive reviews for his work in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. In addition to winning a San Diego Film Critics Society for Best Actor and a Special Jury Award with the Evening Standard British Film, Branagh received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film itself, which starred Branagh and other big names like Julie Christie, Kate Winslet, David Blair, Derek Jacobi, Robin Williams, Charlton Heston and Jack Lemmon, was a hardcore Shakespeare rendition for the masses. After Hamlet, his acting career again met with failures. Branaghs subsequent effort in Robert Altman's The Gingerbread Man (1998), The Proposition (1998), Woody Allen's Celebrity (1998) and the critically-acclaimed The Theory of Flight (1998) received either critical scorn or apathy. In 1999, he costarred with Will Smith and Kevin Kline in the Western Wild Wild West, where he was garnered some of the only positive reviews that film critics had for the film.
Entering the new millennium, Branagh starred, directed and wrote the screen adaptation of a film musical version of Love's Labour's Lost (2000), featuring the music of Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. Teaming up with Alessandro Nivola, Alicia Silverstone and Natascha McElhone, the film was a box office disappointment. In the following years, Branagh lent his voice for Migue for the animated The Road to El Dorado (2000), earned rave reviews for his portrayal of a crusty writer in How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog (2000), reappeared on the small screen for the TV film Big Al Uncovered (2000) and found himself acting with Gerard Horan and Jimmy Yuill in Phil Stooles short Schneider's 2nd Stage (2001).
The actor made a name for himself in television when director Frank Pierson cast him in the main character of SS General Richard Heydrich in the HBO drama Conspiracy (2001). Due to his bravura acting, he was handed an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, in 2001, and earned a BAFTA and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. Branagh gained additional critical appreciation for his performance in the made-for-television movie Shackleton (2002), where he nabbed an Emmy and a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor.
He returned to film with his tiny, but pivotal, role of the Chief Protector of Aborigines A.O. Neville in Phillip Noyces Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002). The film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Branagh next portrayed Gilderoy Lockhart in the blockbuster hit Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), and two years later joined Tara Fitzgerald, Freddie Highmore and Alex Jennings for director John Stephensons adventure film Five Children and It. Recently, he played Franklin D. Roosevelt in the television film biopic Warm Springs (2005) (TV). From 2001-2003, Branagh could also be seen on stage, directing "The Play What I Wrote" (2001), returning to the British stage with his title role in "Richard III" (2002) and playing the title role in David Mamet's "Edmond" (2003) at the National Theater in London.
- Emmy: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, Conspiracy, 2001
- Empire: Inspiration Award, 2000
- Evening Standard British Film: Special Jury Award, Hamlet, 1998
- San Diego Film Critics Society: Best Actor, Hamlet, 1996
- Venice Film Festival: Best Director, A Midwinters Tale, 1995
- Guild of German Art House Cinemas: Foreign Film, Much Ado About Nothing, 1994
- London Critics Circle Film: British Producer of the Year, Much Ado About Nothing, 1994
- British Academy: Michael Balcon Award, 1993
- Chicago Film Festival Best Foreign Film: Henry V, 1990
- BAFTA: Best Achievement in Direction, Henry V, 1989
- National Board of Review: Best Director, Henry V, 1989
- New York Film Critics Circle: Best New Director, Henry V, 1989
- Special London Critics' Circle: cited for work with the Renaissance Theatre Company; shared with David Parfitt, 1988
- Society of West End Theatres (SWET): Most Promising Newcomer, Another Country, 1982
- English Theater: 1982
- Plays and Players London Theatre Critics: Most Promising Newcomer, Another Country, 1982