Kenneth Branagh has one of those careers many in the industry likely envy. He’s good-looking enough to make women swoon but rugged enough to tackle darker roles. He writes. He directs. All, including Christopher Nolan, respect him. And he has fantastic hair.
His latest venture, The Haunting of Venice, sees Branagh return to the Hercule Poirot role for the third time following Murder On the Orient Express and Death On the Nile. It’s up to us to pour through his massive filmography and determine our five favorite performances. No small task, kids. Branagh has delivered some genuinely eye-popping work.
Honorable Mention: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
I had to sneak this one in there. As the self-absorbed Gilderoy Lockhart in the second Harry Potter flick, Branagh turns the smug dial to 15 and never lets up — the character practically leaps from JK Rowling’s text. The award-winning actor believes he’s a lot better than the material. Still, that natural bravura makes Lockhart a memorable twerp you kinda sorta feel sorry for despite his villainous ways. Too bad he didn’t show up at Hogwarts more often.
Dunkirk is more of a Christopher Nolan movie than a star vehicle for any of its cast members, but Branagh does some heavy emotional lifting as the weary Commander Bolton. While he mainly stands around delivering buckets of exposition and fearfully surveying the sky looking for German bombers, he provides the film’s most significant heart-swelling moment.
Near the end of the war epic, Bolton spots various shapes on the horizon and peers through binoculars. Colonel Winning approaches and asks, “What do you see?” A smile spreads over Bolton’s face. “Home,” he says with tears as the music swells — one of my favorite movie moments.
Henry V (1989)
No stranger to William Shakespeare, Branagh made a name for himself by adapting the Bard’s works to the big screen, often with astounding results. Henry V marked his first foray into this dark universe, and the actor/director delivers a fiery, passionate, authentic performance that captures the complexity of the role. He delivers rousing speeches with authority and commandeers the battlefield like a champ but never fails to make Henry V anything less than a relatable human being struggling with personal dilemmas.
My Week with Marilyn (2011)
Portraying a real-life figure like renowned actor Sir Laurence Olivier may be daunting for some, but Branagh handles himself accordingly in the drama My Week with Marilyn. The film chronicles Olivier’s interactions with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, as seen through the eyes of third assistant Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne).
Arguably, the film only scratches the surface of its subject matter. Still, Branagh overcomes a weak script to deliver a magnificent performance that meshes well with Williams’ take on the iconic star.
Dead Again (1991)
Branagh shines in this neo-noir thriller as private investigator Mike Church, who aids a mute and amnesiac woman (Emma Thompson) who has nightmares of a murder. A parallel story sees Branagh as a talented composer who falls for a famous musician (also Thompson). When she’s brutally murdered, Roman is executed for the crime, which goes unsolved and correlates directly to the present-day storyline.
That description doesn’t do the film justice. Seriously, give this one a watch. Not only is the story unique, but the pic also affords Branagh a massive stage to show off his remarkable versatility.
You can’t have a best of Kenneth Branagh without featuring Hamlet. Perhaps the most splendid big-screen interpretation of the classic Shakespeare play – or, at least, the one I’ve seen the most outside of school. Clocking in at four hours, this epic features an all-star cast and delectable photography, hews closely to the source material, and dazzles despite its occasional excess.
Make no mistake. This is Branagh’s show, and the actor delivers an emotionally charged performance as deep and complex as any throughout his career. Branagh employs his physical presence and facial expressions to communicate Hamlet’s emotions and mental condition. Through his body language and expressive eyes, he infuses the character with depth, enabling the audience to understand Hamlet’s inner turmoil. The actor relishes bringing one of Shakespeare’s most popular characters to vivid life and knocks it out of the park.