Anyone who is a fan of modern-day William Shakespeare has definitely at least heard of Kenneth Branagh. However, Kenneth Branagh is much more than just a Shakespearean actor and director, and in fact he has starred in or directed countless Hollywood films.
Kenneth Branagh was originally born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1960, but his family moved to England before his tenth birthday to escape all of the fighting that was starting to ravage his homeland. Despite growing up in England, Branagh still considers himself to be more Irish than English.
Branagh knew from a young age that he wanted to act, and this dream took him to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Upon graduation, he began to appear in many theater performances of Shakespeare, and his performances soon won him much critical acclaim and recognition.
Branagh began his acting career in stage performances of Shakespeare's plays and had smaller roles in many British television shows, but his first international acclaim came in 1989 when he wrote, directed, and played the title role in 1989's "Henry V." At this point of his young career, it was starting to become apparent that Branagh and Shakespeare was a match made in heaven. In fact, within a few years he was already considered one of the best Shakespearean actors of the modern times and went on to both direct and star in many adaptations of Shakespeare's plays.
Just four years after "Henry V," Branagh was back at it, this time as writer, producer, director, and actor in his adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing," which again received widespread praise and glowing reviews.
1995 then saw Branagh taking on two more Shakespearen plays, first writing and directing "A Winter's Tale" before playing Iago in the film adaptation of "Othello." Still, none of these roles could compare to Branagh's greatest Shakespeare adaptation that came the following year when he directed and played the title role in "Hamlet." Branagh's adaptation of "Hamlet" was so well done that it is still considered one of, if not, the best film adaptation of a Shakespeare play ever to be made. While Branagh's directing of "Hamlet" was outstanding, it is his role of Prince Hamlet that remains most memorable.
Since "Hamlet," Branagh has expanded his considerable talents and taken on other challenges and has only been a part of two more Shakespearean films, as an actor and director in 2000's "Love's Labours Lost" and as a producer and director of "As You Like It" in 2006.
Despite starting off mainly as a Shakespearean actor and director, Kenneth Branagh has since shown that his talents are not merely confined to this realm, and he has gone on to play roles in many other film genres. Younger fans may be most familiar with the role that Branagh played in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" in 2000, when he put in an outstanding performance as Professor Gilderoy Lockhart.
Another film that showed Branagh's multifaceted talents weren't merely limited to Shakespeare was 1999's science fiction classic "Wild Wild West," where Branagh played the villain Dr. Arliss Lovelace opposite other famous names such as Will Smith, Salma Hayek, and Kevin Kline. Although the film was not very well received, this was more to do with the overall plot, as Branagh again received critical acclaim for his role.
Branagh's talents are not merely limited to acting, as shown by his amazing Shakespeare adaptations. However, what Branagh himself considers as his biggest directorial accomplishment is when he was chosen to direct the latest film adaptation of a Marvel comic in 2011's "Thor." Branagh himself has admitted that he was a huge Thor fan all throughout his childhood, and it was a dream come true for him to be chosen as director for the film version. The film was a huge commercial success and very well received by the critics.
In fact, the film was so well made that the studio began pre-production planning on a sequel even before the film was release. Branagh was again slated to direct, but he was not happy with the script and soon withdrew from the project. Nonetheless, it remains one of his directorial highlights outside of his Shakespeare films. This truly shows that Kenneth Branagh is highly adaptable and a man of many talents.
Throughout his career, Branagh has been nominated for both five Academy Awards and five Golden Globes and has also won both an Emmy award and three BAFTAs. Although he didn't win any of the Academy Awards, he was the first person to ever be nominated in five separate categories. Additionally, he was further recognized for his achievements late in 2012 when he was made a knighted by Queen Elizabeth.