Darling, They're Wonderful: Lay Off Ken and Em
The Guardian (London), September
by Derek Malcolm
Kenneth Branagh recently said:
"The English critics pull my films apart. I don't know if
it's me they don't like or my films. There are some very personal
attacks. They have accused me of being the worst actor in the
world, and of being a megalomaniac. My wife Emma Thompson and
I get on the critics' nerves.Even though that causes us deep
hurt at times, nothing will stop us from continuing. I never
expect anything positive from the whole English press, so I'm
Branagh may have been put in
a better mood by the success of his new film In The Bleak Midwinter
at the Venice Festival. It won an award for teamwork from the
international jury and received nice reviews from most of the
international press. He was also welcomed with a stream of interviews
and banks of paparazzi. One critic commented on his courtesy
and pleasantness - a compliment that could equally be levelled
at Emma Thompson. She's refreshingly open with the press. I'll
never forget her comment on television just before her Oscar
triumph when asked whether, despite being often parted from her
husband, she wanted to start a family. "A family?",
she said, "Sex would be a fine thing."
I happen to like both of them.
After a Guardian Talk with Ken I travelled back with him from
Birmingham. On the train he actually asked me what it was like
to be a critic and how they operated. You may think that unexceptional,
but there are very few stars willing to talk about anyone but
As for Emma, I was much impressed
by the way she did her best to satisfy everybody who wanted to
talk to her or photograph her at the Guardian's reception for
Much Ado About Nothing at Cannes. This was in marked contrast
to Keanu Reeves, who seemed to be in a sulk throughout.
Ken and Emma are good not just
as actors but as writers (Ken wrote In the Bleak Midwinter as
well as directing, and Emma, Sense And Sensibility as well as
acting in it). It is probably the fact that they received so
much publicity early on in their joint careers that has now led
to the backlash.
Perhaps it was Branagh's too
early biography, which he did to make a bit of money when his
Renaissance Company was soaking it up, that put the press against
him. And maybe it's Emma's jolly hockey sticks approach which
irritates those used to serious Hollywood platitudes.
Both have been extremely loyal
to Britain, despite their success in America. Both are excellent
ambassadors. And if Branagh is a megalomaniac, I haven't found
anyone connected with his films who thinks so.
But he has possibly done too
much too soon, directing and acting in the films he has made,
producing as well and generally holding everything together.
Perhaps he has had to, and I think it has affected both the development
of his acting and the incipient improvement in his direction.
He should not be trying to become a jack of all trades but master
of none. This is a definite danger for him.
Emma, on the other hand, has
developed her acting to the point at which she very seldom gives
a bad performance. Even when slightly miscast, as she may be
in the forthcoming Carrington, she carries it off. Her portrayal
of Dora Carrington may not quite ring true, but it's a very good
performance all the same. And she was superb in both Howards
End and The Remains Of The Day. We'll have to wait for Sense
And Sensibility to see whether she can write as well as act.
Mr and Mrs Branagh are a fine
advertisement for British film-making and do not deserve the
personal attacks made on them. Branagh is not the young Olivier
and Thompson is not Peggy Ashcroft. But they have, on the whole
done pretty well, pretty soon and, in so doing, maintained their
dignity and equilibrium far better than many others would have.
Talk to someone like Spike Lee and Kevin Costner and see the
Back to Articles Listing
Back to the Compendium