Friday, August 10, 2012
Kenneth Branagh ... What Are You DOING? (Part II)
He assembled another all-star cast--a mix of Hollywood and the English stage: from Billy Crystal (a gravedigger) to Charlton Heston (the Player King) to Julie Christie and Judi Dench and Derek Jakobi and Kate Winslet (Ophelia) and Robin Williams (Osric) and so many others, including Brian Blessed and Richard Briers from Much Ado.
Joyce and I saw it in one of the old downtown Cleveland theaters, the first film in many years that had an intermission (right after the monologue that ends with O, from this time forth, / My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!) This was an event. I desperately wanted to love the film. I wanted a big comeback for Branagh--something to make up for Frankenstein. I really wanted to love it.
I liked it. There were moments that dazzled (delivering To be into a mirror)--the swordplay with Laertes (Michael Maloney, who'd starred in A Midwinter's Tale for Branagh), a contest that ranges all over Elsinore--the performances of Julie Christie and Kate Winslet and Derek Jakobi--and so much more.
And then there's his age. I thought he looked too old. Sure, Shakespeare is a little, uh, random and inconsistent about the Prince's age in the play--is he 30? a teen?--but we still have to accept, at base, that he's a university student ... I just didn't buy it. Branagh looked more like a trustee than a sophomore.
Still .. I did like the film--a lot. Saw it more than once. Took students to see it. But even during the decade I was teaching Hamlet at WRA, I never showed the entire film. I would sometimes use clips of it. But I just couldn't show all four hours--a week of classes!
The critics were not crazy about Branagh's Hamlet but generally admired it--e.g., Roger Ebert (Ebert's review). And he won an Oscar nomination for his screenplay and some best actor awards here and there (not the Oscar--neither a nomination nor a win). For the most part, it seems, critics were happy that he was back doing what he did best--directing and performing Shakespeare.
Review). Fans stayed away in droves. Branagh's stock plummeted. I sort of liked it--but realized why I shouldn't. But I did hang this poster in my classroom for about ten years.
Along the way, Branagh did some other things I liked: the narration for Anne Frank Remembered in 1995; his playful (!!) portrayal of Iago in the 1995 Oliver Parker film of Othello; the Altman film The Gingerbread Man in 1998; Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002); his portrayal of Kurt Wallander in those great TV mysteries; his portrayal of Laurence Olivier in the recent film My Week with Marilyn--the very Olivier whose Henry V he'd once challenged with his own.
But, oh, the bad things were piling up. The Wild Wild West (godawful), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (he lacked magic), Valkyrie, Pirate Radio ... and then director of Thor, a film I didn't go see but whose trailer, which I did see, promised the subtlety of his Frankenstein with the soul of, oh, nothing.
I see on IMDB that Branagh's got a second Thor in the works and is directing a film based on a Tom Clancy novel. Really?
What's next, Ken? Wedding Crashers II? Fifty Shades of Grey?
Despite all of this, I still have some faith in Sir Kenneth. But I hope he doesn't arrive in the winter of his life only to realize, too late, that he could have given the world a Richard III or a Winter's Tale or a Tempest that would have reached into our hearts and wrung red tears from them.
And about that name--Branagh--and the "Hollywood connection" I mentioned yesterday ... About the time I was reading his name in the news but not knowing how to pronounce it, there was at student at Harmon School, perhaps a sixth grader at the time (?), named Bronagh Hollywood. I saw her name on the absence list one day. Had an epiphany. Waited till a day when she was back. Had someone point her out to me at lunch. Approached her. Asked her: Excuse me, but how do you pronounce your name?
And she told me: BRO-nuh.
It was but a wee step to BRAN-uh. Rhymes with manna--the stuff from heaven--which is what I once thought Kenneth was bestowing on this poor, hungry world.