I Hate Kenneth Branagh

A Year of Essays: December 27, 2021

I hate Kenneth Branagh. I don’t know him, have never met him, yet I hate him. Not his work. His 1989 version of Shakespeare’s Henry V hit right when I was studying the history plays. I had VHS tapes of Ken’s version and Olivier’s version, and I’d watch them over and over, play in hand, to learn adaptation. This was also my first encounter with Ken, as well as Judi Dench, Michael Williams, Geraldine McEwan, and that knock-out, Emma Thompson.

Who was this woman? My hatred for Ken commenced upon learning Emma was his wife. (I never forgave him for divorcing her, though she divorced him for having an affair with Helena Bonham Carter. Were the three ever together in Harry Potter? Awkward!)

I recently saw Ken’s latest film, Belfast, which I’ll come to soon. After seeing it, I texted Ben. Ben and I text each other after every movie with our rants or raves. “Superb work. His best film yet. It was also way more emotional that I thought it would be.” We chatted about Ken’s work. Ben typed: “Although he ruined it with Emma.” To which I replied, “Stupid boy. Stupid, stupid boy.”

[For everyone except the twelve people who get this, Emma played the Duchess d’Antan in Impromptu, a gem of a film about 19th century artists. The duchess as patroness wants to bring Paris to the provinces, inviting the artists for a fortnight. During a deluge, the artists idly pass time with the Duchess in her parlor. At one point, the Duchess sighs, complaining about the “stupid, stupid rain” which propel the artists to write a play satirizing the aristocracy and mocking their hostess.]

I digress, though I really don’t. I have been infatuated with Emma since that first glimpse on the screen as Katherine de Valois, and insanely jealous of Ken’s relationship with her. Ken had the girl, the talent, the training, the looks, and a smirk that went on for days. Ok. I’ll admit it. I was jealous of Emma, too.

Ken and I are 54 days apart in age. He’s older. Part of why Belfast was emotional is because it is Ken’s story, or as he puts it, his “most personal film.” I grew up across the Pond (though I was born in the U.K.), and though I didn’t live through the Troubles in Northern Ireland as he did, our family dynamics were eerily identical: Pa worked abroad; Ma took care of the home and berated Pa for his lack of, well, everything while still loving him; Granny and Pops tried to hold us all together; and in the end, we all moved away together for something better. I peered into his young life and saw my own. I oft quipped Ken and I were separated at birth.

I don’t really hate Kenneth Branagh. I admire his work. Truly. I think we would have been great mates. I have, however, lived vicariously through him, and for that, and his work, I am grateful.

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David Beach is playwright/writer, director, dramaturg, and educator. He holds a PhD in education and an MFA in playwriting, and is a professor at Radford U.

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David Russell Beach

David Russell Beach

David Beach is playwright/writer, director, dramaturg, and educator. He holds a PhD in education and an MFA in playwriting, and is a professor at Radford U.

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