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
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
arts + entsFor a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
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.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past