When you think of modern Shakespeare, it’s impossible not to think of Kenneth Branagh. But the Belfast native has had a long and varied career across theatre, television, and film as both an actor and director. He has been nominated for multiple Academy Awards and has won two Emmys, a Golden Globe, and four BAFTAs. Having trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts as a student, he has served as its president since 2015 and is notable in how he promotes the careers of other RADA graduates.
In honor of his multiple Oscar nominations for his film Belfast, we’re sharing where you can watch some of his most exciting work as a director online.
Branagh has directed adaptations of five Shakespeare plays, in addition to mounting several productions on stage. His 1989 directorial debut, Henry V, also marked Branagh’s first Oscar nomination for Best Director. He also received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for playing the titular role. The film is notable for being his first time directing Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, and his then-wife Emma Thompson, all of whom he has continued working with throughout his career. Henry V met great critical success and is still considered one of the greatest Shakespeare film adaptations ever.
Henry V is available to stream on Hoopla.
Branagh’s third film that he directed boasts an insanely stacked cast: Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, Emma Thompson, Phyllida Law, and Branagh himself, to name a few. In the film, six friends who were in an acting troupe together while at the University of Cambridge reunite after ten years following Peter inheriting his family’s estate. While it’s a fun and warm comedy as we watch these friends reminiscence over memories and deal with their current relationship issues, it also sensitively approaches more sincere topics: the loss of a child, illness, and divorce.
Peter’s Friends is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Much Ado About Nothing
My personal favorite of the Branagh Shakespeare adaptations, Much Ado About Nothing, saw Branagh and his then-wife Emma Thompson as the beloved literary couple, Benedick and Beatrice. (They’re the original enemies to lovers, in the best banter-filled way possible.) From the beautiful production design and costumes to the way that it shows how well Branagh can make the Shakespearean language seem natural, the film is a treat for both those who love Shakespeare and those who haven’t engaged with it since high school. Plus, Branagh was the first to realize that Denzel Washington is a great Shakespearean actor, long before he was cast as the titular role in Tragedy of Macbeth.
Much Ado About Nothing is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of those times when Branagh really understood the assignment. Despite the changes that Steph Lady and Frank Darabont made in adapting Shelley’s classic novel to the screen, it is still considered the most book-accurate Frankenstein film. The cast is fantastic, from Branagh as Victor Frankenstein to Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth Lavenza to Robert De Nero (yes, you read that correctly) as Frankenstein’s creature. It’s a film that delights in being as Gothic and sensationalist as possible, which I want from a Frankenstein adaptation.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is available to stream on HBO Max.
Every Shakespearean actor wants the chance to play Hamlet, so it’s little surprise that Branagh directed a version of the play in which he played the titular character. There have been a wealth of adaptations of this tragedy, but Branagh’s 1996 version remains my favorite – both for his portrayal of the Danish prince and for Kate Winslet’s Ophelia. The large cast also includes Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Rufus Sewell, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Judi Dench, John Gielgud, and Richard Attenborough. With a lovely score by frequent Branagh collaborator Patrick Doyle and gorgeous costumes by Alexandra Byrne, the film also is the only unabridged theatrical film of the play, clocking in at over four hours long.
Hamlet is available to stream on Hoopla.
In 2007, Branagh continued his tradition of adapting plays to the screen with Sleuth. Harold Pinter adapted Anthony Shaffer’s play of the same name, which was previously made into a film in 1972. An older author and the young actor that his wife is having an affair with play a series of mind games against each other. Michael Caine stars as the older man, having previously played the younger one in the last film. Jude Law gives a fantastic performance as the increasingly more-unhinged Tindle. While the film didn’t receive great reviews, the way that Branagh plays with space to create a claustrophobic atmosphere is fascinating.
Sleuth is available to stream on HBO Max.
Few Marvel films feel as much a part of their director’s normal filmography as Thor does. Though it depicts Asgardian superheroes inspired by Norse mythology coming to Earth, the Asgard sections feel very Shakespearean. Perhaps that’s because Anthony Hopkins plays Odin and Tom Hiddleston, a frequent Branagh collaborator, plays Loki, Thor’s trickster brother who wants the throne for himself. But Branagh did an excellent job setting up Thor’s character, played by Chris Hemsworth, and the world of Asgard. How excellently Branagh directed this film is even more apparent when compared to its sequel, Thor: The Dark World.
Thor is available to stream on Disney+.
Considered by many to be the best of the Disney live-action remakes of their classic animated tales, Cinderella is a gorgeous and lush depiction of the fairytale. The cast includes the effervescent Lily James in the titular role with Richard Madden as the perfectly-updated prince. Cate Blanchett, Holiday Grainger, Helena Bonham Carter, and Derek Jacobi round out the rest of the cast. Compared to the newest version of Cinderella, it’s clear that Branagh understands the enduring message of this story: the importance of staying kind in the face of hardship and not becoming bitter against the world. The performances are stunning, the visuals are immaculate, and the all-important ballgown is one of the most memorable dresses to appear onscreen in this century.
Cinderella is available to stream on Starz.
Murder on the Orient Express
It makes all too much sense that Branagh would set his eye on the character of Hercule Poirot and his new series of films based on Agatha Christie’s mysteries was undoubtedly off to a good start with the 2017 Murder on the Orient Express. Branagh is excellent as the intelligent, eccentric, mustachioed detective but also crafts an elegant and engaging mystery. Much like his theater casting and his casting of earlier Shakespeare adaptations, Branagh has committed to casting diversely in his Christie adaptations. The cast is fantastic and includes Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom. Jr, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Lucy Boynton, and Johnny Depp.
Murder on the Orient Express is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon.
All Is True
It seemed inevitable that Branagh would one day portray the Bard himself. All Is True imagines William Shakespeare in the last years of his life after returning to Stratford-upon-Avon, following his successful career in London and trying to reconnect with his family. Judi Dench portrays Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife, and Ian McKellen plays the Earl of Southhampton. While the film isn’t perfect, it’s a treat for Shakespeare lovers and clearly a passion project from a man who has devoted much of his career as an actor and director to the playwright’s work.
All Is True is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon.
As an eleventh bonus film, it feels right to urge everyone to see Belfast if they haven’t. The film is inspired by Branagh’s own childhood in Belfast during The Troubles in the late 1960s with a cast including Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds, Caitríona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Colin Morgan, and Jude Hill. It’s a touching story that shows the conflict through the eyes of a child while also expressing the power of film on a young mind. It’s a love letter to Belfast – and to Branagh’s family.
The film is nominated for seven awards at this year’s Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Ciaran Hinds), Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench), Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song, and Best Sound. The odds are hopeful that Branagh will come away with at least one actor despite the fierce competition from the other outstanding films of the past year.
Belfast is available to rent on iTunes.
Branagh now holds the record for having nominations in the most Academy Award categories, having been nominated eight times across seven different categories. These include: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Live Action Short Film.
Hopefully, Branagh will be bringing home his first Oscar by the end of this weekend. Regardless, he has had a fantastic career thus far, directing everything from Shakespeare adaptations to comedies. In addition to directing, he continues to act, both in his own work and in other directors’, and continues to have an active role in the West End theatre scene. We cannot wait to see what he does next.
More From Wealth of Geeks
- Review: ‘Death on the Nile’ May Not be Watertight, but Branagh’s Poirot is Still Fun
- The Essential Richard Madden Watchlist
- Academy Awards Oversights and Mistakes Rarely Talked About
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit:Marvel Studios.
Nicole Ackman is a writer, podcaster, and historian based in North Carolina. She loves period dramas, the MCU, and theatre. Nicole is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and the Online Association of Female Film Critics and is Tomato-Meter Approved.