'Fortunes of War' Strikes Gold with Branagh
St. Petersburg Times, January
by Janis D. Froelich
English actor Kenneth Branagh
looks apprehensive as he stands by himself in the corner of a
reception room at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
After all, he's not really known
in the States and the TV critics attending this informal interview
session have just seen the first episode of his starring role
in Mobil Masterpiece Theatre's Fortunes of War.
So Branagh looks as if he's taking
a deep breath before sacrificing his psyche for dissection by
a bunch of American TV critics.
He needn't look so worried. Branagh
is a smash in a PBS series that looks as if it will wear more
comfortably as a pullover than a stuffed shirt.
Fortunes of War is an odd war
movie - not really about the battlefield, but about an unconventional
young couple. They're struggling more to keep their togetherness
out of troubled water than to escape the ravages of World War
And as Branagh confesses after
I walk over to chat with him, the character he portrays, Guy
Pringle, a university lecturer, is "a bit of an insensitive
bloke." In fact, Branagh questions Guy's personality as
if he's miffed by the actions of a close friend whom he's trying
very much to help.
Branagh, a mere 27, is on the
screen almost continuously during the seven-part BBC-WGBH Boston
co-production, which is quite a costly one by British standards.
As director James Cellan Jones says later at a press conference,
"People in England, thought it (the $ 12-million cost of
production) was shameful, but we just scraped along." The
film, based on the work of novelist Olivia Manning, was shot
entirely in Bucharest, Athens and Cairo.
Even though the opening episode
begins in September 1939, right before the Romanian prime minister
is killed, the relationships brought to life by the Fortunes
of War cast are very contemporary. For example, there are several
scenes about journalists assigned to Bucharest, which are reminiscent
of Broadcast News.
Branagh gives such a fresh, lively
performance as he plays this young fuddy-duddy: On one hand,
he's often thoughtless of his wife, Harriet (played by plucky
English comedian Emma Thompson), but he still manages a sparkling
charm as the newly married couple gets caught behind enemy lines
in the Balkans and Middle East.
Branagh relaxes a bit as more
reporters circle around him, asking questions about his role.
He doesn't resemble the movie-star type. He's stocky, has messy
eyebrows and has that English ruddy complexion. In the film his
hair is slicked back and he wears glasses. But in person, his
light hair is somewhat tousled, making him look very young and
In Fortunes of War when his character,
Guy, tells his wife, "Wherever we are, that will be the
center of things," I found myself wanting to watch more
and more of Branagh's magnetic work.
Branagh has been busy in the
theater in England and has done some "telly," he says.
He had the title role in Henry V for the Royal Shakespeare Company
and recently starred in the BBC's Ghosts. He's made a movie with
Jacqueline Bisset called High Season to be released soon.
So he's definitely poised for
stardom. He says his goal is to work in America, yet he tells
a very forthright story about how he is struggling with commercialism.
After finishing the nine-month shooting schedule for Fortunes
of War, Branagh decided to spend a year as actor/manager of his
own small London theater company, partly financed by his own
When a British bank asked him
to do a commercial, he admits he was tempted. "I wondered
how much they were willing to pay and if it matched how much
I value my integrity," he says tongue-in-cheek.
Branagh adds that he didn't pursue
the deal, however, and therefore doesn't know the price tag for
his advertising endorsement. Obviously, bank commercials are
not the future for Kenneth Branagh.
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