Kenneth Branagh is an acclaimed Irish actor, director, producer, and screenwriter. He is known for directing and starring in several Shakespearean adaptations on the big screen, including Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Love’s Labor’s Lost, and As You Like It.
However, despite his success, Branagh has also garnered a fair share of criticism and backlash over the years. Some moviegoers and critics have expressed dislike or hatred towards the filmmaker for various reasons.
Why Do Some People Dislike Kenneth Branagh’s Work?
Accusations of Being Pretentious
One of the most common criticisms leveled at Branagh is that his films come across as pretentious or self-indulgent. Detractors claim he tries too hard to give his Shakespearean adaptations grandiose productions with over-the-top acting and directing choices.
For instance, Branagh’s Hamlet was criticized as being too long at 4 hours and 2 minutes. His elaborate 65mm footage shot at Blenheim Palace was seen as excessive by some. Overall, Branagh’s earnest and solemn approach to Shakespeare is sometimes labeled as pretentious or pompous.
Over-the-Top Acting Style
Branagh’s acting style has also drawn flak over the years for being too over-the-top and theatrical. His vivid Shakespearean delivery has been labeled as hammy, exaggerated, and overly dramatic by certain critics.
For example, his performance as Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was criticized for being too flamboyant and almost cartoonish. Detractors feel Branagh sometimes sacrifices subtlety and nuance for showmanship.
Accusations of Egoism
Branagh has been accused of egotism and narcissism by some of his critics. They feel he monopolizes the screen time in his Shakespeare adaptations, giving himself the juiciest and largest roles at the expense of the overall story and ensemble cast.
For instance, Branagh not only directed but also starred as the lead in Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet. His decision to handle major acting and directing duties in the same film strikes some as an egotistical move.
Perceived Hackery of Literary Classics
Some cinephiles dislike the perceived “hack job” Branagh does when adapting revered literary classics to the big screen. They feel Branagh vulgarizes the material with big-budget productions, CGI, and Hollywood spectacle.
For example, his adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was criticized for being a sensational FX spectacle that lost the subtlety and nuance of the book. Purists feel Branagh subordinates faithfulness to the source material for commercial interests.
Association With Hollywood Excess
Branagh’s association with Hollywood excess and commercialism in some of his non-Shakespearean films also puts off critics. For instance, big-budget films like Wild Wild West, The Gingerbread Man, and Artemis Fowl were major critical and commercial flops.
The directorial choices in these films were perceived as indulgent and lacking in taste. As such, Branagh’s dalliances in mainstream Hollywood fare have led some cinephiles to see him as a purveyor of shallow blockbusters lacking artistry.
While Branagh has helmed some acclaimed films, his filmography is also dotted with major flops. Disappointing movies like Sleuth, The Magic Flute, and As You Like It have failed to strike a chord with audiences. This unevenness makes some skeptical about giving Branagh’s films a chance.
Animosity Towards Branagh Justified?
Despite the criticism, Kenneth Branagh remains one of the most acclaimed Shakespearean actors and directors of his generation. While his stylistic choices may not appeal to everyone’s tastes, he has also helmed brilliant adaptations like Henry V and Hamlet.
Branagh has introduced Shakespeare to new generations of filmgoers in an accessible way. Even his mainstream films have their moments, and his talent as an actor cannot be denied. Dismissing Branagh’s entire body of work because of a few films seems unreasonable.
At the end of the day, Kenneth Branagh’s biggest strength – his earnest reverence for Shakespeare – is also his most critiqued weakness. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between the excessive adulation and vitriol.
Branagh’s contribution to keeping Shakespeare alive on the big screen deserves recognition, even if his directorial choices sometimes miss the mark.
Kenneth Branagh’s Notable Achievements
Despite polarizing opinions on his work, there’s no denying Branagh has left a lasting impact on cinema. Some of his notable achievements include:
Revitalizing Shakespeare on Film
Branagh is credited with revitalizing interest in Shakespearean cinema. Prior to his adaptations, Shakespeare on film was mostly limited to arthouse productions. But Branagh made the Bard accessible to mainstream audiences again.
Earning 5 Oscar Nominations
Branagh has earned 5 Oscar nominations for Henry V (1989), Hamlet (1996), Murder on the Orient Express (2017), Belfast (2021) and short film The Boy in the Branch (2022).
Directing Major Blockbusters
Beyond Shakespeare, Branagh has directed major blockbusters like Thor (2011), Cinderella (2015) and Artemis Fowl (2020). This shows his versatility as a filmmaker.
Knighted by Queen Elizabeth
In 2012, Branagh was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his contributions to drama and film. This puts him in the same company as iconic British knights like Laurence Olivier.
Acting in Harry Potter and other Franchises
As an actor, Branagh has appeared in hit franchises like Harry Potter, Dunkirk, Tenet and more. This has made him a familiar face to mainstream audiences.
Co-founding the Renaissance Theatre Company
In 1987, Branagh co-founded the Renaissance Theatre Company with David Parfitt to stage productions of classic plays. This added to Branagh’s repertoire as a man of the theatre.
Kenneth Branagh’s Legacy on Shakespearean Cinema
Introduced a New Generation to Shakespeare
Branagh’s biggest contribution is making Shakespeare cool again for younger viewers who found the Bard boring in literature class. His grandiose film versions conveyed the excitement and drama innate in Shakespeare’s narratives.
Set New Standards for Production Value
Past Shakespeare films mostly had a low-budget BBC-style aesthetic. But Branagh raised the bar with lavish costumes, expansive sets, exotic locales and other production values that enriched the viewing experience.
Drew Parallels Between Modern and Shakespearean Themes
While staying mostly faithful to the text, Branagh also drew parallels between Shakespeare’s themes of war, family, politics and human passions with a contemporary resonance. This made the plays extremely accessible.
Inspired Further Shakespearean Adaptations
Branagh’s success paved the way for more filmmakers to try their hand at Shakespeare like Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet), Michael Almereyda (Hamlet 2000) and Justin Kurzel (Macbeth 2015). Branagh sparked a Shakespeare renaissance on film.
Launched the Careers of Major Actors
Branagh frequently collaborated with talents like Emma Thompson, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi and Kate Winslet earlier in their careers. Appearing in his films gave their careers a major boost.
Kenneth Branagh’s Filmography Over the Years
Early Career (1980s to mid-1990s)
Branagh first gained recognition in the UK for his stage work and TV appearances. His early directing credits include:
- Henry V (1989) – Directorial debut and breakthrough hit. Earned Branagh Best Director and Best Actor Oscar nominations.
- Peter’s Friends (1992) – Comedy-drama featuring an ensemble cast of Branagh, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Widely considered his best non-Shakespeare work from this era.
- Much Ado About Nothing (1993) – Critics praised Branagh and Thompson’s acclaimed performances as Benedick and Beatrice. Also boosted the careers of Kate Beckinsale and Keanu Reeves.
- Hamlet (1996) – Branagh’s magnum opus – a lavish 242-minute adaptation that earned 4 Oscar nominations including Best Screenplay. Also starred Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Kate Winslet.
Transition to Hollywood (Late 1990s to 2000s)
During this phase, Branagh transitioned towards more mainstream Hollywood productions with mixed success:
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) – Big-budget take on the horror classic. Earned some praise for its visual spectacle but was seen as an overproduced misfire by most.
- Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) – Branagh’s attempt at a musical Shakespeare adaptation was a rare commercial and critical disappointment.
- Wild Wild West, The Gingerbread Man (1999) – Back-to-back box office flops hurt Branagh’s reputation within the industry. Seen as indulgent vanity projects.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) – Branagh chewed the scenery as vain Professor Lockhart. The blockbuster restored his box office bankability.
Balancing Shakespeare and Hollywood (2000s to present)
In recent years, Branagh has struck a balance between passion projects and more mainstream fare:
- As You Like It (2006) – Branagh’s final Shakespeare film to date got a limited release and underwhelmed critics.
- Thor (2011) – Branagh’s blockbuster take on the Marvel superhero was a surprise hit that launched the MCU’s Phase One. It gave him a tentpole directing credit.
- Cinderella (2015) – Branagh brought his signature lavishness to this Disney live-action remake. The project reinforced his family-friendly credentials.
- Dunkirk (2017) – Highly acclaimed war epic that earned Branagh his first Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his stoic performance.
- Death on the Nile (2022) – Branagh’s recent return to Agatha Christie proved another crowd-pleasing commercial hit and allowed him to reprise his Poirot role.
In closing, while Kenneth Branagh’s bold directorial choices open him up to criticism from some quarters, his impact on popularizing Shakespeare on the big screen is undeniable. For many viewers, Branagh made Shakespeare cinematic – injecting the plays with a scale, passion and visual lavishness that brought them to life on film.
Beyond Shakespeare, films like Henry V and Hamlet also revealed Branagh to be an actor of solid depth and sensitivity. And even his Hollywood blockbusters have displayed Branagh’s flexibility as a filmmaker.
Branagh now occupies a unique place in cinema at the intersection of mainstream entertainment and artistic passion projects.
His ability to straddle both worlds is a testament to his complex talents as an actor, director and interpreter of classical works. Branagh may be divisive at times, but he’s never dull – putting his singular stamp on every project.
FAQs about Kenneth Branagh
Why does Kenneth Branagh often cast himself in lead Shakespearean roles?
As an actor with extensive classical theatre experience, Branagh felt capable of doing justice to Shakespeare’s complex leads. Being both director + star allows him to fully realize his singular vision for the plays. It also echoes past actor-directors like Laurence Olivier who played many of the same roles.
Is Kenneth Branagh married?
Branagh married actress Emma Thompson in 1989 after they met on the set of the TV series Fortunes of War. They were considered one of Britain’s premier power couples and frequently collaborated. However, they divorced in 1995. Branagh then married film art director Lindsay Brunnock in 2003.
What was Kenneth Branagh’s first major film role?
In 1984, Branagh had his breakout performance starring in the BBC miniseries The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. He played the husband of a woman who reinvents herself after her husband leaves her. Branagh won a Best Actor BAFTA for his work.
Why did Branagh’s marriage to Emma Thompson end?
The marriage reportedly ended after Thompson discovered Branagh was having an affair in 1995 with actress Helena Bonham Carter, his co-star in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The messy public split sparked a media frenzy, with Thompson withdrawing from filming Branagh’s Hamlet.
What awards has Kenneth Branagh won?
- Nominated for 5 Oscars, 2 for Best Director, 2 for Best Actor, 1 for Best Supporting Actor
- Nominated for 3 Golden Globes (won 1)
- Won 2 BAFTAs including Best Direction and Best Actor
- Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series for Wallander
- Received knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2012