Like pubs, the Royal Family and cheese rolling, Kenneth Branagh is one of Britain’s greatest phenomena. Hollywood loves him, and so have a succession of incredibly talented and high-flying British women.
So, what is it about our Ken that attracts the likes of Emma Thompson and Dame Judi Dench to love and work with this Knight of a Thousand Stars? Well, an amazingly diverse talent for starters. Sir Ken is not only a respected stage and screen actor, but also a director and producer. His work has seen him nominated for an Oscar in five different categories – no other man has achieved this – and encompasses Shakespeare on both stage and screen. He’s directed the likes of hit West End comedy The Play What I Wrote and on TV, Kenneth has starred as Shakleton and Wallander to huge acclaim. It is this diversity, as well as his good looks and charisma that has proven so magnetic. Here, famously, are the women who have played their own roles with such aplomb on the Branagh stage and screen:
An Oscar winner herself, Emma Thompson recently wowed the West End as Stephen Sondheim’s Mrs Lovett – the woman who famously baked murder victims into pies.
It’s lucky for Ken that Emma hadn’t read that particular cookery book while they were still together because, although reconciled now, Emma might well have taken her rolling pin home with her. For a long time she was rather miffed at Ken, who, during their six year marriage famously had an affair with another high-ranking member of Britain’s acting royalty, Helena Bonham Carter – but not before Emma and Ken had made four big screen blockbusters.
Helena met Kenneth Branagh while he was directing her in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just Frankenstein that created a monster…their creative union rather got in the way of his first marriage.
Helena, who had no formal acting training, is a distant relation of Florence Nightingale and a great-granddaughter of former Prime Minister H H Asquith. Famously passionate, their flame burned just a little too brightly and although their relationship continued after his split with Emma Thompson, the two eventually parted after several fiery years together. Bonham Carter subsequently married another director, Tim Burton. Somewhat unusually they lived next door to one another with just a connecting door through which to conduct their marital relations and eventually parted in 2014, presumably because of the constant draught through the crack.
Now the toast of the West End after her starring role in Gypsy, Imelda Staunton was directed by Ken in not one but two of his films – Peter’s Friends and Much Ado About Nothing.
This means she makes it onto our list of Ken’s multiple conquests – Kate Winslet would also have matched that achievement, having been lined up to star in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (yes, really) which Branagh was also in line to direct, but the film hit the rocks in 2013. We can only guess that Guernsey ran out of money…or potatoes? So that leaves appearing in multiple Branagh films as an achievement few other major names than Imelda or Emma Thompson can claim…that is apart from our next, and very famous, leading lady.
Dame Judi Dench
Perhaps the very greatest of Dames, Judi Dench has twice collaborated on film with Branagh, in no less than two of Shakespeare’s great works: Henry V and Hamlet.
Dame Judi reunites with Sir Kenneth in 2015, this time on the London Stage when she will appear as Paulina in The Winter’s Tale. Branagh will play Leontes as well as directing (with Rob Ashford), following in the footsteps of the likes of David Garrick (after whom the Garrick Theatre is named), Sir Laurence Olivier and Kevin Spacey.
And of the future? Well, Lily James may be all over the internet right now because of her forthcoming stint as Juliet as well as her big screen Hollywood role as Cinderella, but one thing is certain – Sir Ken’s interest in Lily is purely platonic.
Lily is dating former Doctor Who, Matt Smith. And that’s probably just as well as we meet the final, and most important woman in this director, actor and producer’s life.
Since 2003, Sir Ken has been married to Film Art Director, Lindsay Brunnock. Their marriage has stood the test of time, and it’s credit to both partners that the relationship has stayed largely away from the magnifying glare of the media spotlight. Because, funnily enough, if you shine a spotlight through a magnifying glass, it tends to set stuff alight…
Sir Kenneth Branagh is patron of registered charity, http://www.progresstheatre.co.uk/
Working with director Rob Ashford and designer Christopher Oram, the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company will take residency in the Garrick Theatre from October 2015 to November 2016, presenting an exceptional series of five plays that bring together a remarkable group of actors, led by Rob Brydon, Judi Dench, Lily James and Richard Madden.
We are also selling tickets to the Branagh shows.