Kenneth Branagh (1960-) b. Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Famed as the foremost Shakespearian interpreter of the late twentieth century, Kenneth Charles Branagh was born to a working-class family on December 10, 1960 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His family moved to Reading, England in 1969 to escape the ‘troubles’. Branagh became attracted to acting at the age of 15 after seeing Derek Jacobi performing Hamlet on stage. In 1979, Branagh was accepted at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, the prestigious drama school, and moved to London. Upon graduation at the age of 23 he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company until internal bureaucracy drove him to decline a second contract with the company. In 1986, Branagh formed the Renaissance Theatre Company with his friend David Parfitt. The company produced a number of Shakespeare plays and earned an excellent reputation; this led to Branagh being acclaimed as the next Olivier. Whilst filming the BBC mini-series The Fortunes of War in 1987, Branagh was introduced to his co-star and future wife, Emma Thompson. Branagh and Parfitt decided to go into the film business with Henry V (1989), a direct contrast to Olivier’s 1944 flag-waver. During the same year, he and Emma Thompson were married. In 1991, Branagh made his Hollywood debut, again opposite Thompson, in the Hitchcockian thriller Dead Again (1991). The lacklustre ensemble piece Peter’s Friends (1992) followed. Branagh went on to direct and star in further adaptations of the Bard; Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Hamlet (1996) and Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000). With Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), Branagh began to lose his golden touch with a disappointing adaptation of the classic novel. In 1995, Branagh and his wife divorced. Unfortunately, subsequent efforts have proved equally unexceptional, both Robert Altman’s The Gingerbread Man (1998) and the blockbuster comedy western Wild Wild West (1999) cast Branagh against type. Branagh returned to more fitting roles with an excellent portrayal of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition to the South Pole in Channel Four’s two-part drama Shackleton (2002).