Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare

Richard Hamilton, Kent State, 1970.
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By VANDERLEI TENÓRIO*

Considerations on the career of the Irish filmmaker

There is something about Shakespeare that encourages every generation to try to do something new or different with their work. For example, putting Romeo and Juliet on the beaches of Los Angeles, as Baz Luhrmann did, or modernizing the language as happened in Julian Fellowes' disastrous version. This constant need for reinvention has become almost parodic, which is why Kenneth Branagh's resolutely traditional interpretations feel so refreshing.

Over the past 30 years, Branagh has directed six Shakespeare-inspired feature films. In this perspective, their versions of Henry V, So much noise for nothing e Hamlet are among the best film adaptations of the bard of all time. The key to its success isn't trying to reinvent or reimagine the pieces, it's just choosing a setting and then interpreting the text with incomparable taste. His version of Hamlet, for example, runs for a full four hours, putting every word of Shakespeare's magnificent text on screen.

In his beautiful Shakespearean adaptations, Branagh utterly shatters the illusion that Shakespeare is unapproachable. Even today, when much of the Anglo-Saxon language has shifted from Tudor English and the pieces are more impact than pentameter. In Branagh's works, Shakespeare can be appreciated by anyone, the filmmaker and screenwriter knows how to work with excellence the clothing and language in the visual and textual narrative of his films.

Irish is intimate with the writings of the English playwright, poet and writer. Strictly speaking, all of Branagh's Shakespeare film adaptations are based on earlier stage productions in which he starred in Royal Shakespeare Company and Renaissance Theater Company. This decision gives a sense of credibility to his film work.

Branagh understands Shakespeare's rhythms and themes so well that conveying them seems effortless. See his Benedick monologues about conflicted feelings towards Beatrice at So much noise for nothing (1993). Branagh's diction rolls with the lyricism of the bard's language, while his blocking ranges from slanted uncertainty to seething, unbridled ecstasy. Viewers will be able to deduce from the context any linguistic nuances that might otherwise elude them.

Technically speaking, part of the appeal of Branagh's adaptations is the gigantic casts he assembles for each of his works. Richard Briers, Derek Jacobi and Emma Thompson are some of his lucky recurring talismans, while he also brings notable performances – from Denzel Washington, teenage Christian Bale and even Keanu Reeves – equally surprising is the way he makes Brian Blessed a presence. credible on screen.

For example, the cast of Hamlet is so magnificent as to be disconcerting. Peter O'Toole, Judi Dench and Ken Dodd have speechless appearances, while Charlton Heston, Robin Williams and Jack Lemmon drop in for small cameos. Clearly, actors love working for him – Branagh is one of the few filmmakers who can see into an actor's soul, so the fact that he's an actor helps a lot.

In the question casting, Branagh maintained his allegiance to British actors, the so-called “Shakespearean actors”. This deliberate choice contributes not only to Branagh's style, but also to the films' apparent believability. In other words, British-trained actors "doing Shakespeare" are theoretically more palatable to many audiences than someone like Al Pacino, for example, whose American accent was mocked in his documentary based on Richard III, Looking for Richard (1996)

Like John Ford, the Coen Brothers, Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, Kenneth Branagh recycles collaborators. He constantly works with the pros: Tim Harvey (Production Designer), Patrick Doyle (Composer) and Roger Lanser (Director of Photography). In fact, when those names appear on screen, we know we're watching a Branagh movie.

Branagh makes the most of cinematic techniques – close-ups allow for an intimacy with actors that theater audiences can never experience – while using long takes to allow the performances and scripts to speak for themselves. The form of the films caters entirely to the texts, which may lead some to dismiss his films as obsolete. Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare film adaptations (and many of his non-Shakespeare films) include rich mise-en-scenes and sweeping cinematography, both of which serve to illuminate Shakespeare's poetry and prose.

Branagh's cinematic choices – specifically sequence shots or scenes that unfold into a long take and tracking shots Steadicam that surround the characters – work with the flow of Shakespeare's language. Perhaps the most memorable example of both of these stylistic choices is his four-minute tracking shot in Henry V (1989), in which Prince Hal of Branagh carries his dead baggage boy (Christian Bale) across a battlefield strewn with soldiers while non nobis darkly plays the soundtrack

Em Henry V (1989), Branagh comes dangerously close to numbness. However, it manages to capture the emotional truth of Shakespeare's drama, which helps to avoid any risk of dryness. Henry V earned Kenneth Branagh worldwide critical acclaim and has been widely considered one of the best film adaptations of Shakespeare ever made. Apart from that, the feature film earned Ken in his debut as a director, Oscar nominations for Best Actor e Best Director.

Much of that success has to be attributed to Branagh's talented production designer, Tim Harvey. The warm Tuscan village of your So much noise for nothing (1993) intoxicates audiences with its permanently shining sun and the hum of insects in the background. The play could be Shakespeare's best novel and it would take a hardened heart not to fall under its – and Branagh's – spell. However, the true triumph of his work is Hamlet, set in a palace inspired by Versailles.

Each frame looks opulent and excessive, making Hamlet's mourning attire even more incongruous. It is a sumptuous spectacle that befits the grandeur and epic nature of the story. All of Branagh and Harvey's aesthetic decisions ultimately exist for the larger mission of the story. Some of these choices may not be radical or over the top, but they are crucial.

Branagh hasn't always been successful with his Shakespeare films, but they tend to fail when he pushes less conventional ideas. your version of As you wish (2006), has many charms, but is crucially hampered by the choice to set it in Japan. The setting is poorly realized and doesn't make much sense within the context of the film. To transform Lost Loves (2000) on a 1930s musical received similarly mixed responses.

His latest Shakespearean project, The pure true (2018), offers the audience the opportunity to step into the shoes of William Shakespeare, the film portrays Shakespeare in the final years of his life. In the film, Branagh playfully dabbles in Shakespeare biography, sprinkling in a juicy mix of facts and guesswork, alongside an all-star cast that knows how to handle a Shakespearean play, including Judi Dench and Ian McKellen. Kenneth stated that he sought to make a connection between the man and the work. His desire was to find the human being in Shakespeare – Branagh played the main role in the film, in short, he played his great idol William Shakespeare. Recently, in an interview with Collider, Branagh revealed that he is willing to return to the classic Shakespearean pantheon in an unexpected way: through animations.

In addition to adaptations of Shakespeare's works, the Irish actor, screenwriter and filmmaker has also helmed numerous other film projects, including Frankenstein (1994), the underestimated Thor (2011) Cinderella'(2015), Murder on the Orient Express (2017) Artemis Fowl: The Secret World(2020) and death on the nile (2020)

In December, his new feature film is released. Belfast. The film is based on the director's memories during the summer of 1969, where Branagh's life (aged eight at the time) changed completely because of the Conflicts in Northern Ireland (The Troubles), the political conflict due to disagreements between Irish Catholics and Protestants in the north of the country during the 1960s.

In the film, Branagh intends to recreate these moments in black and white through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy named Buddy (Jude Hill) who lived an idyllic childhood in Belfast and sees everything go to waste when his parents (Dornan and Balfe) and his grandparents ( Dench and Hinds) need to protect themselves due to the feeling of violence that begins to pop up in the region. The prediction is that Belfast to be shown in theaters in Brazil in February 2022.

In short, Kenneth Branagh is drawn to different stories, themes and motifs. He also refuses to define Shakespeare contemporary and has a passionate desire to bring the language of Shakespeare to the masses. He sports a unique directing style and production aesthetic. But for all that, Kenneth Branagh almost always helps to illuminate Shakespeare. With Kenneth, we come to see Shakespeare democratically, distinctly, directly and beautifully.

*Vanderlei Tenorio Bachelor's Degree in Geography at the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL).

 

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