Hit & Run: Vote for Ken
Thursday 23 October 2008
Actors, like investment banks, are susceptible to the fluctuations of the market. While the Stock Exchange is reeling, shares in Kenneth Branagh are soaring. Ever since his Ivanov opened the Donmar season at Wyndham's Theatre, it has been Ken! Ken! Ken! Buy! Buy! Buy! – or the critical equivalent.
"This is great acting, no question," enthused The Independent's critic, Paul Taylor, actually singling out a moment when he was "beyond praise". And now, to top it all, he's about to star on BBC2 as Hemming Mankell's fictional detective Kurt Wallander, in a new series touted as "the Swedish Morse".
Branagh is back!
For some of us he had never been away. Yes, there were blips. Even as an ardent young teenage fan, I could tell something was wrong with the first big Hollywood film he directed, the grandiose Frankenstein (1994) and I didn't understand why he gave such an uneasily neurotic performance in Celebrity (1998) – why impersonate Woody Allen when his own, fine self was what we wanted?
But at least he got out from the Hollywood behemoth alive. The current return to form sees him back to doing what made his name in the first place.
First, a BBC drama (his role as Guy Pringle in the BBC's adaptation of Olivia Manning's Fortunes of War in 1987 helped launch him on the public, as well as introducing him to Emma Thompson), and secondly, classical drama. His West End appearance in Ivanov is his first in far too long. It is only regrettable that his contract to direct Jude Law in Hamlet has been torn up in favour of a Hollywood blockbuster, Thor.
But judging by his current success, it would seem that the years Kenneth spent out in the critical cold have matured his talent to a finer vintage. Some would say that during this time he produced some of his most interesting work, like his extraordinary opera directorial debut, a new vision of The Magic Flute, efflorescing with CGI and set in the First World War trenches. Some would also say that it deserved more than its strictly limited cinema release. He also won an Emmy for his creepy performance as Reinhard Heydrich in the Nazi drama Conspiracy (although some of us – OK, I'll be perfectly frank, I – have always seen him as stepping more naturally into the shoes of a hero. Shackleton, yes; twisted Obergruppenführer, no).
Ah, Kenneth. As you are now clasped back to the bosom of the establishment, your fans can only sigh "at last". Will it be as much fun loving Kenneth now that everyone else does? I am not sure. Whatever the opposite of a fair-weather fan is, that is what I always wanted to be to you. But now you get cast as Kurt Wallander and what do critics say you are? "Unsuitably slim and handsome for the role." Even the carping has become complimentary. Go Ken!
Drugs and TV don't mix
The many callers to ITV's This Morning yesterday who rang to express concern about Kerry Katona's slurred words and cringe-making performance have grounds for worry. If you had taken chlorpromazine, a blunderbuss among tranquillisers, you would have found it hard to drag yourself out of bed to a studio, let alone give an interview.
Katona said she had taken the drug, which is an antipsychotic, the previous night and had nothing to drink before her appearance except cups of tea. The drug is normally prescribed to sufferers from manic depression and schizophrenia. She deserves sympathy, not derision – but who let her go on live TV?
Harry Redknapp's diction is deemed so indecipherable by Portsmouth's multinational squad that some are seeking lessons to understand the touchline instructions of their Cockney coach.
Redknapp's coaching style is notoriously direct – witness his response in a YouTube favourite where a ball nearly hits him in the face during training: "No wonder he's in the fucking reserves!"
Now he needs a translator. You'd think Poplar-born 'Arry, a stern critic of bad language on the terraces, was forever instructing the FA Cup winners to stick the cobbler's awl on Peter Crouch's loaf of bread.
Lifting the lid on the golden age of public loos
Two-a-penny: that sums up "Where to go" guides to London. But if you want to spend a penny in the capital, there's only one to consider. The Good Loo Guide is distinguished by the capital G in the coy subtitle, Where to Go in London.
Since it was published in 1965, a lot of water has passed under the U-bend. Just ask the MPs who this week rallied together to call for local councils to tackle a decline in the numbers and quality of places to Go. It harks back to a world where public conveniences were (a) public and (b) convenient. Some were so magnificent that they earned the maximum three stars ("Worth travelling out of your way to experience").
At Shepherd's Bush Green, the attendant is quoted as saying "The public are absolutely filthy". Meanwhile, the clientele of the National Gallery took great care over personal cleanliness: "The No Smoking loos here are without doubt the warmest in London, a fact well-known among members of the tramping fraternity who are expert at taking as long as one hour to complete their toilet."
Life was more relaxed then. In 1965, anyone passing the US embassy could pop into the "restrooms" adjacent to the library without so much as a pat-down by security guards.
The authors note that no WC ever achieved four stars, the status known as a Royal Flush. But the gents at St Pancras surely came close: "A vast ecclesiastical ballroom with comfortable space for 400 dancers." You might only have been able to travel to Bedford rather than Brussels, but Going was as important as Arriving.
'The Good Loo Guide' by Jonathan Routh was published by Wolfe, price 3s 6d (17.5p)
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