Ken was bitten by the acting bug when he was only 15. After seeing Derek Jacobi play Hamlet he knew his goal in life. I can't say what his first role was in the film industry, but I do know that the first movie I could trace to him was a BBC screenplay called "Too Late to Talk To Billy" which was made in 1982. This was quickly followed by the TV mini series "Boy in the Bush" in 1983. That same year he was in a more notable film, "To the Lighthouse" where he played a student... as you can imagine he's ages somewhat since then. Anyway, his first real on screen appearance was in 1985 in the movie "Coming Through" where he played DH Lawrence. This film is still occasionally on television today if you know where to look.
However, it was in 1987 where his career began to pick up. He took the starring role in 5 separate TV movies in the UK. The most unique of these had to be in the excellent film of "The Lady's not for Burning" where he played a suicidal world weary soldier who fell in love with a 'witch' condemned to death by hanging.
In 1989 it was the TV movie "A Look Back in Anger" that set the stage for what he had aimed for all this time... Shakespeare! He landed the lead in 1989 for Henry the 5th, which I must mention he also directed. Not only was this one of his great accomplishments, he acted next to his childhood hero Derek Jacobi. The two of them in this film are a powerful combination bringing deep drama as well as balance to Shakespeare’s classic. This movie not only brought him high esteem in his own England, comparing him to Lawrence Olivier, but also won him enough awards to fill his mantle piece and then some. Here are the following awards Henry V won:
Since Henry V did so well, he to part in a huge documentary called "Discovering Hamlet" taking him back to the first moment of his teen years when he first wanted to be an actor. The documentary shows Kenneth learning his lines and attempting to develop the role. His long time mentor (Derek Jacobi) became his trainer for the part. Today this film is considered to be dry run for Branagh's greatest achievement to date, his version of Hamlet.
No one, in my opinion, can topple Kenneth in his awesome performance as Hamlet. The incredible passion in his eyes is enough to over through any audience. In fact, this version is now considered the 'definitive' movie Hamlet starting as of 1996, it's release date.
Hamlet's incredible success lead him to produce and direct a humorous (if not a little hammy) version of "Much ado about Nothing." Staring himself as Benedict and his then wife, Emma Thompson.
His next big project was the position of Iago in "Othello." This is the first time I have seen Ken play a villain, and I LOVED it! Iago's dark hatred of Othello lead him to kill several people including his own wife. He played opposite Laurence Fishburne (Othello). A nice pic of Iago can be found in the Gallery.
Despite his dramatic talent Kenneth Branagh has an amazing flare for comedy as well. This will best be scene in the upcoming movie "How to Kill your Neighbor's Dog", and as a leading voice in the new animated feature from DreamWorks pictures "The Road to El Dorado."
But since his biggest fan base is located in the UK, what you may remember him best for, was the eccentric Arliss Loveless in the 1999 Wild Wild West. This may not have been his best role but he still stole every scene.
However, Branagh is not finished with his Shakespearean legacy. Lately his time and effort have been poured into a new version of "Love's Labor Lost". He has shot this movie like a classic 30s musical... only time will tell what it brings, but I am looking very forward to it! It should be released in the U.S. by June 2nd, 2000... the date still pending of course.