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

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?