kenneths finest moments in film : LUSENET : Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet : One Thread

what would you say branagh's top three finest and most ingenious moments [or passages] in shakespeare adaptation film are? and why? i'm working on a project and i need to find moments of excellence that do not only show branagh's depth but also his ability to take his own slant on the plays......................preferably in much ado about nothing, othello, and hamlet?? all suggestions are much appreciated..........

-- miss piggy (, July 31, 2002


Check out Hamlet, right after "Where's your father?" He *wants* to believe her - *needs* to - but, then, no. That's it. She's on their side, whether she knows it or not. He crumbles. Then explodes.

You definitely know that it is a turning point with Hamlet the way that Branagh does it! It only lasts for a moment, but you can *see* Hamlet's *need* to believe Ophelia.

I know that you didn't mention Henry V, but I have always liked "...and all things...stay...for me." All things. Wow. Damnation or redemption? It really bothers him that it may be damnation, but forward momentum is *everything* at this stage of the battle.

I'm sure that I'll think of something else, but I have got to get back to work (besides, I'm CERTAIN that Catherine will have a take on this question)!

-- Casey (, July 31, 2002.

Casey I'm sorry, but yes, I do. I've had quite a few emails from people with feedback on my responses, including one from someone who assured me between swear words that I have no idea what I'm tallking about: I take it on notice. But my response to that is always, hey, no one has to read my responses.

Anyhow. I guess I'm a bit wary of the question, because I've never been a believer in having a different slant for the sake of being different. But Branagh's differences usually work. I'm stuck writing a treatise for uni, or I'd go check for some exact ingenious moments. But then they'd be my favourites, and maybe you really should come up with your own. But then, why is there that dastardly 'pick three ...' again? It's stupid, like 'pick your three favourite pieces of music.' Why the hell? and anyway, they change as you do? and what's with the number three anyway?

Anyhow. Of his directorial and acting projects, one of my personal all-time favourite moments is simply a reading of one line in MUCH ADO: II.iii.199: in the script it's 'Love me! Why, it must be requited', but on Branagh's tongue it becomes 'Love me! Why?? ... It must be requited.' It's gorgeously charming. It's just a line; but it's symptomatic of original thinking.

Also, I reckon his delivery of 'To be ...' in HAMLET was the best I've ever seen. It was so rightly intelligent - Hamlet's own truly cracking intelligence - instead of being a mere emotional rave. And then the two-way mirror stuff added to that delivery, and especially Claudius' face as Hamlet pulls out the dagger. Wonderful; and making the most of the film medium: so much deeper than just pointing a camera at the play.

More generally - and you can go ahead and pick three examples but I'm not going to - I think Branagh has two great fortes. One is the extreme naturalness of his delivery of lines. There's no artifice in the way they come out: each od his characters speaks from the gut like he means it. And allied to that, if a character would spit, he spits; or if his voice would split or choke or scoot to falsetto, it does. It's a part of really playing humanity. So WS is suddenly uncontrived and real. When I saw Branagh do that all through HENRY V was when I first really 'got' WS (always assuming I know what I'm talking about?).

The other strength is Branagh's apparent understanding and demonstrating of the relationships between characters, whether of family, love or hate, of rank. Again it's natural, real, believable. And it's not just for the space covered by the play. Take just a few examples from HAMLET to try and explain what I mean. You know Hamlet and Horatio have been friends for years, and you see why - like interests, like minds, like senses of humour and they care for and support each other; and yet the difference in rank which gives Hamlet control is never forgotten by either. Now, I have to say it, could anyone really see Mel Gibson's Hamlet falling for Helena Binham-Carter's Ophelia, and vice versa? Not in a million. They function on completely different levels, she's a mouse to his cattle-dog, there's no empathy between them and you can't see that there ever could be or could have been. Of course Kenneth Branagh and Kate Winslet went way beyond what's given in the text; but even without the actual depiction of that background story you would pick up the clicks, the sparks, the understanding - however drowned by circumstances - between them.

Then again, even Fortinbras and Hamlet: they never meet in the play, alive; but there's a relationship. The various lines they say of each other aren't gratuitious and don't just pop out of nowhere. You get it: these are two princes, almost of an age, of different yet strong characters, sons of rival kings and therefore to a degree rivals themselves, yet they can't deny their admiration for each other. This certainly comes out through the full-text treatment; and it was Branagh who had the sense, the depth of understanding even, to do the whole thing. And doing the whole thing gives the Polonius-Reynaldo section in II.i which is often cut; and the treatment of that, and with the relationship between the two men, was certainly an inspired slant (and, oh, that French accent works there!). Of course Branagh uses non-English cast members, which, before he did it, was a bit different for WS, and which sometimes I think doesn't work so well.

However, I think my overall favourite of Branagh's performances is his Iago (OTHELLO), although of course the direction wasn't his. But it was just so brilliantly, deeply excellent: so shockingly chilling, and yet I've never been able to laugh with Iago before, or to feel sorry for him, or to want to like him. And that shows masterful ability to play the full humanity of a character, and to manipulate audience. These traits are obviously part of Branagh's ability as an actor, yet they are also so very characteristic of Iago.

Well there. That's part of my take on the question. Sorry to be 'nothing, if not critical', but that three thing is beginning to bug me.

You also maybe want to check out responses to the question in this forum, "comparison between barnagh's movie and the actual play of shakespear (stan wong, 2001-12-08) ". Good luck with the project.

-- catherine england (, August 01, 2002.

Catherine! Why are you sorry that you DO have an opinion on this? I always enjoy your input - it really makes me wonder how much more I would have enjoyed my literature classes if only I had been exposed to Branagh's works while I was still in school. But of course, that's his fault for being too young, or mine for being too old!

My current appreciation of WS's works is completely due to Branagh's take on the ones he's done. I never saw Henry V until I was out of college. I liked it and thought that I had just missed something about WS in school, so I saw Gibson's Hamlet. Nope, I was right, Shakespeare sucked. Then I saw MAAN. It was cool, again! Then Branagh's Hamlet. Hamlet rocked! Then I got very mad at Franco Zeffirelli for screwing it up. He still owes me $8 and an apology as far as I'm concerned. Mr. Gibson can pay up, too as he should have known better.

So, yes, Branagh makes it *real*. It's not about prancing and posing and flinging things about the place. It's about the people and what they are thinking, what they are feeling. THAT is what his Shakespeare conveys.

You're right about that line in MAAN - it was brilliant. Mentioning it made me recall that line in Henry V "Here comes your father" - from the conquering king wooing a princess to the nervous boyfriend worrying about the girl's dad in 3 tenths of a second. Incredible.

Branagh brings humanity to Shakespeare. That's that.

-- Casey (, August 03, 2002.

Kenneth Branagh has played Iago? How exciting. I had no idea, but I would love to hear more about that film version of Othello. As far as the great moments of Branagh, I think that his performance in Henry V is lovely. He is excellent throughout Much Ado; he puts tremondous energy into that role. And, though I fear to be trite, I think the most memorable moment for him in Much Ado is the "It must be requited" speach. I think one of his more ingenious ideas was to place Hamlet in the era he did. I think it worked well for the film -- visually appealling and enough in the past to be mysterious while not being so ancient that the audience feels completely disconnected from the setting.

-- Catherine C. England (, May 24, 2003.

I do not think that Branagh's Iago was particularly great at all. For true greatness, and probably the best performance I have seen ever captured on screen, see Ian McKellon's Iago in Trevor Nunn's 1988 (?) Othello for the RSC. It is now deleted but can be picked up on ebay all of the time.

-- Patrick Walker (, May 26, 2003.

Just reading all of these comment's on Kenneth Branagh's finest moments in film, I would have to say that his amazing talents are most greatly shown in his Shakespearian ones.

I have to say that I must agree with the comment in Much Ado of "Love me! Why??" it does turn the line into something more human, but within that movie still there was another scene in which there was a change in performance and that was at the dance, the first evening that he party arrived. It was the conversation between Benedick and Beatrice about Benedick being the 'prince's jester', when Beatrice still did not know who her partner was. The accented tongue that Branagh used turned the scene to one that made the viewer laugh.

I loved the way Branagh turned from the conquering king wooing a princess to the nervous boyfriend worrying about the girl's dad in 3 tenths of a second in Henry V, it was just brillant.

But Hamlet would have to remain my favourite Shakespeare, and above that my favourite Branagh film. It was just magickal, and for me, turned Shakespeare away from being 'duller than a great thaw' into magic...

-- Rachel Hatton (, July 16, 2003.

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