Hit & Run: Vote for Ken
The Independent, 23 October 2008
Actors, like investment banks, are susceptible to the fluctuations of the market. While the Stock Exchange is reeling, shares in Kenneth Branagh are soaring. Ever since his Ivanov opened the Donmar season at Wyndham's Theatre, it has been Ken! Ken! Ken! Buy! Buy! Buy! – or the critical equivalent.
"This is great acting, no question," enthused The Independent's critic, Paul Taylor, actually singling out a moment when he was "beyond praise". And now, to top it all, he's about to star on BBC2 as Hemming Mankell's fictional detective Kurt Wallander, in a new series touted as "the Swedish Morse".
Branagh is back!
For some of us he had never been away. Yes, there were blips. Even as an ardent young teenage fan, I could tell something was wrong with the first big Hollywood film he directed, the grandiose 'Frankenstein '(1994) and I didn't understand why he gave such an uneasily neurotic performance in 'Celebrity' (1998) – why impersonate Woody Allen when his own, fine self was what we wanted?
But at least he got out from the Hollywood behemoth alive. The current return to form sees him back to doing what made his name in the first place.
First, a BBC drama (his role as Guy Pringle in the BBC's adaptation of Olivia Manning's 'Fortunes of War' in 1987 helped launch him on the public, as well as introducing him to Emma Thompson), and secondly, classical drama. His West End appearance in 'Ivanov' is his first in far too long. It is only regrettable that his contract to direct Jude Law in 'Hamlet' has been torn up in favour of a Hollywood blockbuster, 'Thor'.
But judging by his current success, it would seem that the years Kenneth spent out in the critical cold have matured his talent to a finer vintage. Some would say that during this time he produced some of his most interesting work, like his extraordinary opera directorial debut, a new vision of 'The Magic Flute', efflorescing with CGI and set in the First World War trenches. Some would also say that it deserved more than its strictly limited cinema release. He also won an Emmy for his creepy performance as Reinhard Heydrich in the Nazi drama 'Conspiracy '(although some of us – OK, I'll be perfectly frank, I – have always seen him as stepping more naturally into the shoes of a hero. Shackleton, yes; twisted Obergruppenführer, no).
Ah, Kenneth. As you are now clasped back to the bosom of the establishment, your fans can only sigh "at last". Will it be as much fun loving Kenneth now that everyone else does? I am not sure. Whatever the opposite of a fair-weather fan is, that is what I always wanted to be to you. But now you get cast as Kurt Wallander and what do critics say you are? "Unsuitably slim and handsome for the role." Even the carping has become complimentary. Go Ken!