Film studies: Not much ado about anything Branagh does now

Just between you and me, what has happened to Kenneth Branagh?

"Has he died?" asked my editor.

"Worse than that," I said. "But, if you don't mind, I was talking to our readers."

She ignored the philosophical quicksands in that possibility. She was hot for the gossip. "What's worse than death for an actor?" she said.

"Going cold," I said. "Now, I'm not arguing this for myself, you understand, because I wasn't in Britain to take advantage of it, but I'm prepared to accept that in the days of the Renaissance Theatre Company, he was the genuine article - a terrific young actor and director. Though I have seen the TV serial he did, from the Olivia Manning novels, Fortunes of War - remember that?"

"With Emma. I loved it."

"Me too. I thought these are two wondrous actors. And I admired his Oswald in a TV version of Ghosts."

"And Henry V," she said. "Surely Henry V?"

"To be frank," I said, "I still prefer the Olivier version. Branagh tried to modernise the play. His king was a young officer out of National Service. But Olivier felt like the early 15th century. Branagh's film was naturalistic - Olivier's was an illuminated manuscript."

"Well," she sighed, "he and Em just seemed so perfect for a while. It was nice. But then it faded away."

That's a kind way of putting it. But it is true that Branagh was once spoken of as the heir to Olivier, circa 1945 - the daring film-maker, and the Oedipus and Mr Puff in one night at the Old Vic.

"And Larry and Viv, of course," said my editor - she had the shine of food rationing and Picture Post in her eyes. She was dreaming of a legendary happiness, no matter that it seldom settled for long on the nervy couple themselves.

Since his perfect moment, Kenneth Branagh - not yet 40 - has directed the atrocious Dead Again and the irrelevant Peter's Friends. He did a decent, sunny and moderately merry Much Ado About Nothing. But then he turned Mary Shelley's Frankenstein into one of the greatest travesties of misplaced style. His Hamlet, finally, was no more than very long. As an actor, he did a conventionally nasty Iago opposite Laurence Fishburne's Othello - stealing the picture, but Iago always wins that one. Swing Kids - where did that one come from? And then The Gingerbread Man. There's no rhyme or reason to it.

"But he's in Woody Allen's Celebrity," remembered my editor. "Yes, and shabby, implausible and one more hapless Woody would-be. It's the women who make Celebrity remarkable. And there's another horror you don't know about yet: The Theory of Flight, with Helena Bonham Carter."

"I can't see when it opens."

"Perhaps the actors bought it back and burnt it."

"But aren't he and HBC a couple?"

"So I believe."

"She's not Em? Is that it?"

"No, she's not. But she was very good in Wings of the Dove - sexy, intelligent. You felt her soul and her social problem. I had hopes for her."

"Perhaps you could say something about actors who marry - or whatever," she wondered.

Now, there is a subject. Between you and me - my editor's gone to lunch - to know, let alone love, an actress is a great riddle. That part of us that desires happiness for everyone in life - as a matter of principle - should be very careful when it comes to actors and actresses. I tend to support the notion that they should not be allowed out in society, so that they can infect civilians. Very often in life that sort of sanction does apply - so they go with other actors. It's as if they knew that only fellow-sufferers, ghosts in the same half-world, could tolerate or forgive the sheer absence of actors.

I mean, you can have one in your arms, but they're not there. They're playing themselves. You've got the body, but it's only warm laundry. Their spirits are off in that dark corner where they watch and scheme it all out. It's all the more extraordinary because we think of actors as love models and sex goddesses. Ideal romantic figures. A lot of people think of love and sex as behaviours learnt from movies.

"Been burnt, have we?" My editor takes seven-minute lunches.

"A columnist in this area should come with experience," I said.

"I was thinking," she said. "That Em hasn't done much lately. Apart from Primary Colors."

And that's true. Is she just enjoying life? Meanwhile Branagh opens this summer in America in The Wild, Wild West. It may be a big film commercially. It could rescue him. And he appears from the trailers to be a very broad, rather hammy villain. It's hardly acting as you might have expected. Who knows, he might become "colourful". And I wonder whether the whole thing might not be fit for a sad, comic script by Miss Emma Thompson.

Kenneth Branagh season: National Film Theatre, SE1 (0171 928 3232) to 31 May. 'Celebrity' opens on 18 June.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'