News Archive: January 2001 - May 2001

When the sun comes out it really does get bright (okay, this is lame, but more suitable in this case than saying 'when it rains it pours'). While you all are booking your passage to Sheffield and your tickets for the Crucible, comes word that maybe this will not be the last time KB will tread the boards. Yesssssssssss! The papers are in knots about the RSC news, with many variations of the same story. Here are a few:

From the BBC News, 24 May 2001

The RSC Wants More Big Names

The Royal Shakespeare Company is to scale down operations at the Barbican and mount productions in a wider range of theatres as part of a major overhaul. Under the plans, the company will become much more flexible, but it could mean job losses in both London and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Ralph Fiennes and Kenneth Branagh, both former alumni of the RSC, will perform under the new plans which include shorter contracts, bold programming of plays and better pay and conditions for actors.

The current structure of the RSC, where actors must commit to a lengthy contract in order to perform with the company, is a deterrent to many actors and directors. RSC artistic director Adrian Noble said that the only way to keep arts institutions "fresh and relevant" was to "break the mould". "The crucial thing about the process we have embarked on is that it gives us the flexibility to stage bold and original theatre."

New venues

Instead of creating a season of plays which transfer from Stratford to Newcastle to London, a more flexible model will involve a number of smaller companies opening plays throughout the year in a variety of venues. The company will still stage some productions in the Barbican main theatre, but not in the smaller Pit.

The Barbican's Artistic Director Graham Sheffield welcomed the plan, saying it would also give the Barbican greater flexibility, freeing its stages for other projects. "These changes promise benefits for the Barbican as the release of the summer period in 1998, which enabled us to launch our own BITE international theatre season," he said.

Next generation

Part of the plan is to launch an academy at Stratford in order to recruit actors at the start of their careers and bring them on. Though a host of stars including Dame Judi Dench, Juliet Stevenson, Ian McKellan, Emily Watson have worked at the RSC, this plan will formalise training and development of actors. "We want to continue to support classical actors and directors of the future - to offer a unique training ground to the next Judi Dench or Anthony Sher," said Noble.

The Arts Council of England, which RSC's main source of funds, welcomed the RSC's review of its operations. "We are supportive of the move towards a more agile model on the understanding that the substantial change envisaged will enable the RSC to fulfil its national role in the 21st century," said a spokesman. The Arts Council is waiting for more detailed proposals which will help them determine what financial assistance they will provide.

From The Guardian
Dramatic Changes Afoot as RSC Looks to the Stars

Fiachra Gibbons, arts correspondent, Friday, May 25, 2001

Even the Bard had star trouble. While the London, and even the Sheffield stage has been thick with high-octane Hollywood talent of late, very few limos have being drawing up outside the stage door of the unglamorous and unloved redbrick Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

It is not for the want of trying that Adrian Noble, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, has not had a slice of the theatrical star glut of the last decade. While Shakespeare had to grin and bear it as the genius of his verse was overshadowed by the histrionics of his rumbustious leading man Richard Burbage, Noble's star trouble is that he doesn't really have any.

While rivals have been able to pluck such names as Kevin Spacey, Nicole Kidman, Ralph and Joseph Fiennes and Liam Neeson from the firmament for short, headline-grabbing runs, he has had to plough on doing what the RSC has always done - playing top-notch Shakespeare to a mix of schoolchildren, tourists and serious playgoers - without the distraction of familiar faces from the big screen.

Box office has been healthy, but there has been none of the fizz and buzz which small companies such as the Almeida or the Donmar Warehouse have able to generate by commandeering stars for edgy new productions. When Joe Fiennes played Edward II at the Crucible, critics in New York got out their maps to find out where Sheffield was. (Readers were later informed that it was Full Montyville.)

More worrying still has been the creeping perception that the must-see had gone out of the RSC. Even This England - The Histories, its monumental cycle of eight of Shakespeare's history plays, was somewhat upstaged by other more noisy events because it lacked the anchor of star power.

So 41 years after the permanent company was formed as a bulwark against the power of capricious bill-topping actors, the RSC has finally surrendered to celebrity. The unions and many of the staff at both the Barbican and Stratford have predictably cried foul. Gerry Morrissey, of Bectu, the broadcasting and theatre union, said abandoning the Barbican was "cultural and commercial madness" and called on the London mayor, Ken Livingstone, to join their campaign to keep the RSC in the Pit.

Tellingly, the news leaked out just as Sir Peter Hall, the tyro who founded the RSC in 1959, had safely left the country for a fortnight's holiday in the south of France. His son Edward, who is about to direct Julius Caesar for the RSC, would not be drawn on how his father might react.

Major upheaval in the Stratford programme may also upset the RSC's American philanthropists, who will be called on to help foot part of the £100m bill for the rebuilding of its main theatre on the banks of the Avon over the next few years. Now they can sometimes see four or five plays in a few days, and that will not be possible under the new system.

However, the truth is that the RSC had no option but to change because few actors of the calibre Noble needs are willing to lock themselves into two-year contracts, while the usual six-month stints at Stratford and London are out of the question for international stars nowadays. When Kevin Spacey was asked if he would like to play Hamlet or Macbeth at Stratford, he replied: "It's the kind of thing I dream of, but it would have to be in another life."

Shorter contracts with companies of actors formed more conventionally for specific plays may change that, although of the three "experimental" one-off "star" showcases the RSC has tried in the past few years only Antony Sher's Macbeth has been a conspicious success. Noble has wasted little time, signing up Ralph Fiennes for a limited West End run of Ibsen's rarely-performed Brand.

Nevertheless, bringing Declan Donnellan, the creative drive behind Cheek By Jowl, on board to nurture an academy of 16 of the best drama graduates each year is already being seen as something of a masterstroke, a cheap way of bonding the best young talent both financially and emotionally to the RSC before the lure of bit part on the The Bill leads them into the clutches of television and film.

Noble has been looking longingly across the Atlantic for some time now, not just for actors but for cash, which means other long cherished traditions also may go. The RSC now has a shadow board in the US to take care of its burgeoning commercial interests there - and that will eventually mean Shakespeare with an American accent. He may now be able to cast such fans of the RSC as John Malkovich and Glenn Close, who he has long courted for US-based productions, as well as his biggest target, Morgan Freeman for Othello.

The RSC have been quietly threatening to quit their unhappy home in the Barbican for 10 years or more. The big shock last night was that they had actually gone ahead and done it. While some in the theatrical establishment have reservations about the RSC giving up its London base after fighting for one for so long, Noble is insistent that its new roving status will better suit a leaner company. The RSC was also keen to stress yesterday that it was not entirely forsaking the venue, and was likely to return in future. Its highly successful annual season in Newcastle is also secure.

Some change had been inevitable since the Arts Council, which funds the RSC to the tune of £14m a year, agreed to give it stabilisation funds to help toward restructuring. They gave the news a guarded welcome last night, saying they would await further details in the summer.

Noble's case for change, though, has never been stronger. In his two terms of careful husbandry, he has quietly built up the RSC as a global brand, signing a £2m deal with the University of Michigan, and hiring Andrew Wylie, the literary super-agent known as The Jackal to set up publishing deals. Sher's Macbeth was filmed for Channel 4 and Noble has been eyeing the lucrative educational market for some time.

On stage, a few daring decisions have raised the company's stock after a few years in the doldrums. As well as the Histories, Noble's own productions of family-friendly fare like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and now The Secret Garden have become big commercial cross-overs, while he has the theatrical sensation of the summer on his hands after taking a gamble on Martin McDonagh's hilarious and hugely controversial blood fest, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which both the National and the Royal Court turned down.

The one, rather big fly in the ointment of this new, starrier, more global RSC, however, is the metrocentric reluctance of the really big names go to Stratford. As one former RSC stalwart told the Guardian yesterday: "It's not exactly replete with other temptations. The summer in rural Warwickshire always seems like a great idea until you have to do it.

"People are always moaning about how hard it is to fit in little bits of telly and voice-overs. They'd far rather be in London. I mean, where is there to escape to ... but Coventry."

A regal troupe Forty years at play

• Founded in 1875 as the Shakespeare Memorial Company, it became the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961
• From its bases in Stratford-upon-Avon and the Barbican in London the company makes up to 30 productions every year
• Over the last 10 years, the company has mounted 171 new productions, given 19,000 performances, sold 11m tickets, and played in 100 towns and cities in the UK and 50 towns and cities worldwide
• Turnover is £32m and the new summer festival season has already sold more than £2m worth of tickets
• The RSC has performed regularly in the US since 1913. It has received 10 Tony awards and 40 nominations
• Past players include John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier in the days of the old Shakespeare Memorial Company. More recently Vanessa Redgrave and Judi Dench in the 1960s, Ben Kingsley and Ian McKellen in the 1970s, Kenneth Branagh in the 1980s and Joseph Fiennes in the 1990s
• Previous directors include Trevor Nunn and Sir Peter Hall

From The Guardian
In a World of Dazzle, Beware a Lost Identity

Michael Billington, Friday May 25, 2001

Adrian Noble's radical restructuring of the RSC is born of pragmatic necessity: if star actors are often reluctant to commit to a two-year contract, then it makes absolute sense to offer them straight runs and shorter engagements.

But there is a certain historical irony in the fact that the RSC was created in 1960 by Peter Hall to offset the inherent short-termism of the British theatre.

A three-year contract, security and permanence were seen as fulfilments of actors' dreams; and players of the calibre of Peggy Ashcroft and Eric Porter signed up immediately while others, such as Ian Holm and Diana Rigg, emerged from within the ranks.

Now, however, we live in an impatient, freelance, celebrity worshipping culture where actors crave instant stardom, film is seen as the ultimate goal and people often have to be coaxed into working at Stratford.

So the company is obliged to conform to current practice. But Noble's future plans suggest the situation is being turned to good advantage. Ralph Fiennes, who will play Ibsen's Brand, and Kenneth Branagh have both indicated their willingness to return to a restructured RSC. New directors such as Richard Jones, Loveday Ingram and Rachel Kavanaugh are also being brought in.

Best of all is the news that an academy will be created at Stratford's Other Place comprising 16 drama school graduates. This will bridge the gap between the schools and the profession, save some young actors from heading automatically for TV soaps and cop series and provide a bank of future classical players. And it will, one hopes, instil the idea of the company ethos: the notion that the team is bigger than the individual player.

The big question is whether the RSC's identity will be eroded by the changes. Although it may return periodically to the Barbican, it will be deprived of a permanent London home and working base. Although some argue that it is a conservative, 19th-century notion to imagine that a company's artistic identity depends upon the building it inhabits, there is an equally valid argument that it may risk losing something of its cohesion: one could point to the unhappy example of the Royal Opera and Ballet companies which, during their forced exile from Covent Garden, seemed to be adrift in London.

Adrian Noble argues persuasively that he wants to "deinstitutionalise" the RSC and make it "more flexible, agile and fleet of foot". In the modern world, these are sensible, practical aims. Whether you can do this and still maintain a distinctive company ethos only time can tell. But, in a world of flash and dazzle, isn't there still something radical and moving about the notion of a permanent company bound together by life values as well as art?

Enough of all that - if you'd like to read youselves silly just check any of the news sites. Or wait and go to see the plays, which will tell the real story. (And it seems I can fill the page with blather with the best of them.   :-) )

Pure Ken stuff: The Naxos Audiobooks web site has put up notes by Kenneth and also a blurb by the managing director, which we bring you here:

Kenneth Branagh Talks about Playing Richard III on Naxos AudioBooks' Latest Shakespeare Release:

"It is a sensational part and I think high on the list for many people who attempt the classical route. It was always something I hoped I would have the opportunity to do.

A key for me in approaching the character and the play was to consider it to be a tragedy. The process of working on it over many years has been to see how the man who delivers the soliloquy on waking on the eve of the battle (where a very complicated and guilt-ridden conscience-stricken man is in full tragic flow) - how that accords with the character in the previous parts of the play.

I wanted to take at face value what he said - that his reaction to the world's treatment of his deformity (as described by Shakespeare) was something that leaves him feeling unloved. His reaction to that is extreme and corrupt and murderous but inside there is some human quality that links to the desperation of the man in the fifth act.

It was a challenge recording Richard III for audiobook, but also a particular opportunity. I have had some experience of audio with the three Shakespeare productions we did with Renaissance Theatre - Lear, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. One of the great advantages is the extra special focus on the text and the opportunity to examine the fullest text you can and to allow for a very full examination of the language. After all, this is what we start with, whether we produce it in play form or on film - to look at Shakespeare's vocabulary to the play and to the structure to the play, for the music of the play. I enjoyed that enormously!"

Kenneth Branagh April 2001

Richard III is the eighth Shakespeare play Naxos AudioBooks has recorded in association with Cambridge University Press. It is quite a challenge for a young label like Naxos AudioBooks to undertake these plays which, by the very nature of their large casts and changing scenes, can be among the most expensive and complex ventures in the central audiobook repertoire. We began in 1997 with Hamlet, featuring Anton Lesser in the title role, directed by Neville Jason, and continued with a varied range of productions: including Romeo and Juliet with an ideal cast of Michael Sheen and Kate Beckinsale; and Macbeth with Stephen Dillane and Fiona Shaw. In both those cases, actors turned directors - Michael Sheen and Fiona Shaw both directing audiobook plays for the first time, with very fresh results. King Richard III presented a particular excitement because it all happened so quickly. Kenneth Branagh found he had a window of a week between films, and, having worked on the role and the play for many years, thought it would be an ideal opportunity to conjure a recording out of the air.

The Naxos AudioBooks team swung into action and the green light went on in the studio ten days after the first contact. Under the direction of David Timson, the recording was in the can in three days. Only then was there a short breathing space before the editing process began.

This kind of speed has its own benefits: the level of excitement and urgency being a major factor - one that comes across clearly in the recording. Of course, the cast all knew the play intimately, so the challenge was more technical than interpretative. The result is, I am convinced, one of the most striking recordings of Shakespeare on audiobook. Naxos AudioBooks, which remains the only company to produce all its titles on CD and tape, will continue to record further Shakespeare plays, presenting contemporary interpretations for our time. And it intends to diversify into other areas of drama in the coming years.

Nicolas Soames
Managing Director,Naxos AudioBooks

So - you can go to the Naxos site and order your copy (and see the cover of the CD). This is the chance to get ahead of the game and listen to and memorize the play so that you can pontificate eruditely during the interval in Sheffield about the cuts ("I cannot believe the cuts. I cannot believe the cuts. I cannot believe the cuts.") and the nuances in the timbre of KB's voice (ah, yes, of course, when you have to project...).   :-)

Here's a silly snippet:

From the Belfast Telegraph, 29 May 2001

A recent Stateside magazine ran a feature on the current standing of top actors...and there's bad news for a trio of Irish stars.

Likening Hollywood to a prison, the survey gave Kenneth Branagh, Gabriel Byrne and Stephen Rea locked cells and threw away keys.

Chevy Chase, Jeff Daniels, Val Kilmer, Matthew Modine, Jill Clayburg, Shelley Long, Gretchen Mol and Kathleen Turner were all placed on Death Row!

Ha ha... but - where can I sign up to be a guard in that prison? "You want cigarettes? You gotta earn cigarettes!" Tee hee. Ahem.

Within days there will be a photo update on the site - which means that all the photos which have been in the News (i.e. here) for the last few months will have migrated into links on the New Pics page, and will also be linked from the Photo Gallery. Well, not exactly all the photos... what Rufus would call the "doggy" ones (when he thought a certain North American wouldn't understand 'dodgy' - not me that North American, alas) , stay in the News. So read the News regularly.   :-)

Images to remember - from the Billy Trilogy - a tense young man and Billy and his dad.
(29 May, thanks Jude, Sandra)

Kids! The news on Kenneth's return to the stage (a.k.a. The Second Coming) will be available on the Richard III page from now on. For now you'll find the press release(s), the contact information for the Crucible Theatre and the schedule.

Here's some nice news:

From the Guardian

Branagh Waives Fee for Film on Aborigines

Stuart Jeffries in Cannes, Friday May 18, 2001

The British actor-director Kenneth Branagh waived his usual fee to play a white official who tried to destroy the Aboriginal race in Australia.

Branagh plays A.O. Neville, a functionary with the title Protector of the Aborigines, in the film Rabbit-Proof Fence, directed by Philip Noyce. It is based on the true story of a government initiative to force them to assimilate with white families, and thus breed them out of existence, during the 1920s and 1930s.

The film follows three Aboriginal girls who are forcibly taken from their mother's home in 1931 to be trained as domestic staff at a settlement in Western Australia.

But the girls escape and try to find their way home along a rabbit-proof fence that guides them for more than a thousand miles.

It was one of several films whose rights were acquired by Miramax Films this week in Cannes - deals that hugely improve their chances of being seen globally. It bought a Thai western, Tears of the Black Tiger, by the first time director Wisit Sasanatieng; a martial arts-meets-football action picture, Shaolin Soccer; and the rights to remake two French language films, Harry He's Here to Help (a cult hit at Cannes last year) and Everybody Famous!, a Belgian comedy.

Branagh was cast in Rabbit-Proof Fence only after several antipodean actors, including Russell Crowe, were approached to play A.O. Neville. He invested his fee in the film and, according to industry sources, worked for a relatively small sum but stands to receive a share of box office returns.

A.O. Neville "separated children from their parents and caused massive grief, and yet he was a man who believed he was a saviour, doing the right thing," said Noyce. "There is nothing more overwhelming and terrifying than someone who believes utterly he's doing the right thing."

Noyce - an Australian who has fashioned a successful Hollywood career with such movies as Bone Collector, The Saint, Clear and Present Danger, Sliver and Patriot Games - filmed in his homeland for the first time in 12 years. Rabbit-Proof Fence was made last year, and now Noyce is working on an adaptation of The Quiet American, Graham Greene's novel set during the French Indo-Chinese war of the 1950s.

Rabbit-Proof Fence is based on a book by Dora Pilkington, daughter of one of the three girls depicted in the film.

"Many people in the Australian film industry have said, 'Oh, Australians don't want to see Australian films with black themes'," said Noyce. "But I thought if ever there was a story that was going to prove that wrong, this is it."

White Australia is re-examining its relationship with the Aborigines. A Walk for Reconciliation across Sydney harbour and the gold medal triumph of Cathy Freeman in the 400m at last year's Olympic games in Sydney have helped to change racist attitudes.

The film's producer, Christine Olsen, said: "The white people in the film are our grandparents. There are no moral judgments - it's a human story. We're all products of our time, so we shouldn't try to be morally superior."

And moving south to north, here is the complete cast list for the Shackleton film:
WildLorcan Cranitch
Worsley Kevin McNally
Orde-LeesNicholas Rowe
Marston Chris Larkin
Hudson Shaun Dooley
Crean Mark McGann
McIlroy Pip Torrens
Hurley Matt Day
Macklin Nicholas Hewetson
McNish Ken Drury
Bakewell Nigel Whitmey
Vincent Rick Warden
Green Paul Bigley
Blackborow Celyn Jones
Wordie Jamie Lee
Holness Ian Mercer
Hussey Christian Steel
Emily Phoebe Nicholls
Rosalind Embeth Davidtz
Eleanor Eve Best
FrankMark Tandy
Perris Danny Webb
Caird Robert Hardy
Curzon Corin Redgrave
Docker Mark Williams
Janet Wills Elizabeth Spriggs
Before we go... a set of black and white Hamlet photos: 1) looking at family photos  :-)  ; 2) eavesdropping; 3) "you call this a suitable birthday present?".
(21 May, thanks Paula B., Jude)

Another long article has been added to the Conspiracy page (it's the second one - the Washington Post has been covering this extensively). Here are a couple of reviews:

From US


The movie dramatizes the 1942 meeting at which Adolf Eichmann and 14 other Nazi officials plotted the extermination of Europe's Jews. Although Eichmann inspired Hannah Arendt's theory of the banality of evil, Conspiracy is both fascinating and perversely entertaining. The participants eat, drink, joke and jockey for position while condemning millions of people to death. Though Stanley Tucci's Eichmann is too close to the slimy types he has played before, Kenneth Branagh is brilliant as Eichmann's superior, Reinhard Heydrich. portraying him as a lethal combination of amorality and charm.
3 1/2 stars. A bloodless horror movie

From Variety, 15 May 2001

By Laura Fries

It could be a boardroom at any Fortune 500 company where stockholders bicker over inventory and storage. Instead, the 15 men gathered in this lakeside resort home outside of Berlin are discussing the details of a "Final Solution" to purge all Jews from Europe. In this disturbing original movie, co-produced by HBO and BBC Films, director Frank Pierson recreates the less than two hours it took for high-ranking Third Reich officials to agree to the eradication of an entire race.

Theoretically, one could watch this film on Saturday and then tune in to ABC the next night to watch their horrific plan implemented with the miniseries "Anne Frank." However, "Conspiracy" stands on its own as a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of a disturbing piece of history.

Known as the Wannsee Conference, the only record of the January 1942 meeting to survive was found in the German Foreign Office files by Americans in 1947. Writer Loring Mandel takes the written transcript of the meeting and adds chilling insight into the men and the topic at hand.

Reinforcing the banality of which these men plan the most evil of deeds, Pierson cleverly evokes the pageantry of the meeting, running the camera over the platters of food, carefully selected wines and crystals and even the handwritten place cards. This attention to seemingly unimportant details sets an eerie tone echoed by the understated performances of a fine ensemble cast. Kenneth Branagh oozes malevolence as the manipulative and dismissive SS Gen. Reinhard Heydrich who at one point proudly announces the success of the T-4 euthanasia program. Although technically outranked by others in the room, Heydrich quickly establishes that this is not really a discussion, but rather a very persuasive demand for absolute cooperation.

As Eichmann, Tucci's performance is much more subtle than Branagh's.For most of the movie, he silently carries out Heydrich's commands with hardly a blink of an eye, but instead of losing visibility, Tucci adds nuances of evil with his timely whispers and sideways glances.

The most passionate performance comes from Colin Firth as Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, who for a moment appears to be a Jewish sympathizer, but as it turns out, is angered only at the breach of protocol, not morality.

For the film, Pierson encouraged the actors to use their regular speaking voices as opposed to affecting a German accent. It's a smart move that keeps the focus off of the delivery and onto the content of what was said. The appalling subject matter is then juxtaposed with political posturing and infighting, arguments over syntax, a bit of career networking and of course, a buffet lunch.

Director of photography Stephen Goldblatt keeps the camera at an intimate level with the actors, never venturing above or below eye level. Throughout the film, the camera rotates around the table, seemingly looking for a spark of moral conscience, although little is found. Production credits are flawlesswith immaculate set design by Peter Mullins capturing the opulent but sterile surroundings of Wannsee. Franz Schubert's String Quintet in C Major performed by Ensemble Villa Musica is a nice touch considering at one point in the film Heydrich contends, "Schubert will tear your heart out." That is, of course, if you have one.

Yeesh... it's kind of weird to chatter on here in the News....

However, we'll do a KB onward and upward and fill you in on the look dates at the Newport International Film Festival. There will be showings on 6 June at 9 pm, in OP1 and 8 June at 8:30 pm, in OP2. The director will be attending the first showing.

News on the Rabbit-Proof Fence front (you make one comment about the director not being dead and they sell the film   :-) ).

Press Release
SOURCE: Miramax Films

Miramax Films Buys Phillip Noyce's 'Rabbit-Proof Fence' For North and South America, U.K.and Italy From HanWay

CANNES, France, May 14 /PRNewswire/ -- Miramax Films has acquired all rights in North and South America, the United Kingdom and Italy to Phillip Noyce's new film "Rabbit-Proof Fence" from HanWay. The announcement was made today by Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax, and Jeremy Thomas.

The film tells the true story of three aboriginal girls who are forcibly taken from their outback families in 1931 to be trained as domestic servants -- as part of an official Australian government policy. They escape and embark on an epic 1500-mile journey to get back home -- following the rabbit- proof fence that bisects the Australian continent -- with the authorities chasing them all the way.

"I'm thrilled to be teaming up again with Jeremy Thomas, who I've known and admired for many years," said Weinstein. "And I'm especially pleased that Miramax is involved with Phillip Noyce's next two movies." Miramax is also distributing"The Quiet American," which Noyce will finish shooting next week.

"This is an exceptional film, and Phillip and I are looking forward to Miramax to maximizing its potential in these important territories," Thomas said.

Catriona Hughes of the FFC, one of the film's investors says, "This is an outstanding deal for an outstanding Australian film. I'm delighted!"

The film stars Ningali Lawford, David Gulpilil, Jason Clarke, Deborah Mailman and Kenneth Branagh. The screenplay is written by Christine Olsen, based on a book by Doris Pilkington. The film is executive produced by David Elfick, Jeremy Thomas and Kathleen McLaughlin, and produced by Phillip Noyce, Christine Olsen and John Winter. Credits also include production manager and costume designer Roger Ford, editor John Scott, and director of photography Chris Doyle. The score is being composed by Peter Gabriel.

The agreement was negotiated for HanWay by Recorded Picture Company chief executive Peter Watson, C.O.O. Stephan Mallmann and HanWay managing director Thierry Wase-Bailey; and for Miramax by executive vice president Charles Layton, senior vice president for acquisitions Andrew Herwitz, and president of Miramax Los Angeles Mark Gill, who brought the project to the company (based in part on a 12-year relationship with Noyce) along with Miramax's Australasian consultant Victoria Treole.

And, from the newspaper:
Sydney Morning Herald
Features & Arts, 15 May 2001

As part of a Cannes buying spree, Hollywood studio Miramax has paid $US4 million($8 million) for the North and South American, UK and Italian rights to Philip Noyce's first Australian film in 12 years.

Rabbit-Proof Fence, which won two NSW Premier's Literary Awards last night, is expected to have its premiere at the Venice Film Festival.

With a cast headed by Kenneth Branagh, Rabbit-Proof Fence is based on the true story of three Aboriginal girls taken from their families to work as domestic servants under official government policy in the 1930s.

Miramax seems to mean either sure success or sure death, so I'm not sure what to think. Let's hope they follow through on their idealistic impluse.

It should sound good, though:

from Ananova, 15 May 2001

Peter Gabriel to compose soundtrack for new Kenneth Branagh drama.

Peter Gabriel is to compose the soundtrack to a new film starring Kenneth Branagh. He will provide the score to Rabbit Proof Fence, a new thriller directed by Phillip Noyce.

Gabriel has previously composed music for Strange Days and worked with Graeme Revell on The Last Temptation of Christ. Executive producer Jeremy Thomas said Gabriel would be drawing on Aboriginal influences for the soundtrack, reflecting on the film's storyline, reports Variety.

And the dialogue won't suck:
New South Wales Ministry for the Arts - 2001 Premier's Literary Awards

The NSW Premier's Literary Awards aim to honour distinguished achievement by Australian writers. Established by Premier Neville Wran in 1979, they were the first comprehensive awards of their kind in Australia and they remain the most comprehensive and best remunerated in the country.

Community Relations Commission Award ($15,000) (formerly the Ethnic Affairs Commission Award)
Christine Olsen, Rabbit-Proof Fence (Jabal Films Pty Ltd)
In its graphic retelling of three Aboriginal children's' daring escape from the cloistered captivity of their white 'protector', Christine Olsen's Rabbit-Proof Fence takes the road movie to new heights. Sparse, unsentimental, achingly poignant, (and amazingly true) the script chronicles the children's audacious Outback trek as they follow the rabbit-proof fence home. In the courage, tenacity and foolhardiness of these half-caste kids, Olsen reiterates with consummate skill the indomitable soaring of the human spirit.

Script Writing Award ($15,000)
Christine Olsen, Rabbit-Proof Fence (Jabal Films Pty Ltd)
In 1931 three half-caste Aboriginal girls escape from the Moore River Native Settlement in Western Australia and flee across country, via the 'rabbit proof fence', trying to get back to their mothers in their homelands. An unsentimental, deeply moving story of endeavour against the odds. The script is based on the book of the same name by Doris Pilkington.

Phew - but it's not quite over yet... feast your eyes on this maahhvellous photo of Hamlet and then pick yourself up off the floor.   :-)
(16 May, thanks Rai, Paula B., FilmLover, Jude)

So, the dates to mark in your 2002 calendars are 13 March to 6 April. That's the run for Richard III at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Tickets go on sale on June 18. I think we can safely assume that after those dates people will no longer say "Sheffield, isn't that the place where they filmed The Full Monty?" but rather "Sheffield, isn't that the place where Branagh returned to the stage and delirious fans overtook the city?".   :-)

Just a few days off from the HBO showing of Conspiracy you can find a pack of articles here.

And while many of us are finally getting a taste of spring and summer, some people are about to test the quality of their thermal underwear...

From The Times

Arctic Shoot for Shackleton Film
By Dalya Alberge, Saturday May 12 2001

Kenneth Branagh was preparing yesterday to leave for the Arctic to portray Sir Ernest Shackleton in an ambitious film about the ill-fated British explorer’s attempt to reach the South Pole. Conditions are expected to be so hazardous that 10 per cent of the 100-strong crew will ensure the safety of the others.

Shackleton (1874-1922) was on his third Antarctic exploration when his ship Endurance ran into trouble and drifted for ten months before being crushed in pack-ice. His men found themselves drifting on ice floes for months before escaping in boats to Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands. Shackleton died in South Georgia in 1922, apparently worn out by the strain of his expeditions and by trying to raise funds for them.

The film-makers will be living on a ship on the ice just like Shackleton and his men, sleeping three or four to a cabin. But, unlike the explorer,they will have the advantages of satellite observation, radar and sonar technology. They will also be there for only a few weeks and will not have to live off dogs, penguins and seals. They are filming in the Arctic as it is easier to reach. The £10million Channel 4 film is being directed by Charles Sturridge.

I, for one, am relieved by the existence of satellite observation, radar and sonar technology.  :-)

And... remember Rabbit-Proof Fence? Nope... no release date or anything, but this snippet which at least indicates that the director is still alive, and hopefully the film as well...

From Variety, 30 April-6 May 2001

New Era for Oz
by Don Groves and Michaela Boland

"It's a pity Australia has to be a very expensive film school for America," laments director Phillip Noyce. But Noyce, who shot his last two films Down Under ("The Quiet American," "Rabbit-Proof Fence"), notes an increasing number of Oz helmers and actors are returning to shoot productions, often U.S.-financed. Recent examples include Michael Rymer (WB-Village Roadshow Pictures"Queen of the Damned") and Alex Proyas (Fox's "Garage Days.")

Yeah, well, I did say 'snippet'.... but to compensate here's the accompanying photo.
And the other photo for today is from the HBO Guide, kind of scary. It seems like all oppressors favour the same hairstyle....
(13 May, thanks Jane, Karen, Sara)

News all over the place! First of all, a bit more on our version of The Second Coming:

Branagh To Play the at Crucible

by Ian Souter, Sheffield Star, 5 May 2001

Another major star of the stage and screen is coming to Sheffield to appear at the Crucible Theatre.

Britain's top actor-director, Sir Kenneth Branagh is to play Shakespeare's Richard III next March, exactly a year after the smash-hit production of Edward II starring Joesph Fiennes.

"In some ways it's an even bigger coup", said Sheffield Theatre's associated director Michael Grandage. "He's a formidable man of the theatre and was keen to return to the stage. The most exciting thing is that he could do it almost anywhere - at the National, on Broadway - but he has decided the one place he wants do his first play in nine years is here."

It clearly also owes something to the drawing power of Michael Grandage who will direct Richard III with the same production team from Edward II which Sir Ken came to see.

Branagh himself has done more than anything to keep the Shakespeare flame burning with modern audiences, starring in and directing popular movie versions of Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet and Love's Labour's Lost, often featuring Hollywood Stars.

This paper knows a candidate for knighthood when it sees one.   :-) The dates for the run are 16 March to 6 April 2001. Stay tuned for more information - we have almost a year to work ourselves into a frenzy, tee hee.

On another high note... How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog has won the Best Feature Film and Best First Film awards at the Phildephia Festival of World Cinema! Read all about it here. (Insert repeat of rant about distribution from last News update below.)

HBO has put up more things on the Conspiracy section of its web site. There is a rather chilling close-up of KB, and there are three video clips of him discussing aspects of the film; there is also what they call a promoette, which sounds like some kind of half-baked high-school dance, but is actually a short trailer. Who invents these names?

From Karen's Conspiracy site:

HBO broadcast schedule (Eastern Time)
May 19 - 9:00 pm
May 22 - 1:00 pm
May 27 - 12:15 pm and 11:00 pm
May 31 - 2:30 pm and 11:55 pm
June 4 - 10:00 am and 8:00 pm
June 9 - 5:30 pm
June 13 - 5:15 pm

And these quotes from Kenneth:

For Kenneth Branagh, playing Reinhard Heydrich was not only a challenge, but one of the most disturbing experiences of his nearly 20-year acting career. "Even amongst a group of men who committed the most extraordinary crimes, Heydrich was unique for the ferocity and the cruelty of what he did, and the ruthless efficiency with which he did it," Branagh notes. "In my preparation I thoroughly researched Heydrich, but I found that when it came down to playing him, the 'inner' man seemed invisble."

"Our scriptwriter, Loring Mandel, tried to do a psychological profile of Heydrich, looking for elements of behavior that may not appeal but perhaps lend to understanding his character, whether it be hatred of parents, a childhood trauma, some physical or mental disability, something that might illuminate his motives. Nothing seemed to make conventional psychological sense. His utter lack of compassion, lack of pity, revealed a man who has a buried conscience and as a result, seems to be soulless."

"Playing such a character, I didn't want to say the lines, I didn't want to be connected to this moral vacuum that seems to be the man himself. He was an absolutely extraordinary mind, a fantastic manager, but also an absolutely ghastly human being. There is something purely evil about him that is absolutely repellent and I'll be very happy not to wear his uniform or play him ever again. Despite this, the ultimate message of this movie and the necessity for doing it seem to me to be immensely positive and important."

And here is an article from Variety:
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - "They have the biggest balls in the business."

By Army Archerd, Daily Variety Senior Columnist (8 May 2001)

That's Stanley Tucci talking about HBO. Tucci plays Adolf Eichmann in HBO Film's "Conspiracy," the story of the 90-minute meeting Jan. 20, 1942, of 15 members of the German High Command at Wannsee, outside Berlin, to decide the annihilation of over four million Jews -- by industrialized murder.

It is a journey into the heart of evil. In a cold, blood curdlingly-matter-of-fact discussion, the exact method of murder is agreed upon. There is no physical and/or visual depiction of what they discuss or of what is to come, namely the Holocaust and its victims. The film is riveting and I defy anyone to turn away from the screen when any of the principals, led by Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich and Tucci as Eichmann, are on camera. Frank Pierson directed and never once does he have cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt shoot above or below eye level. You are there in the company of these 15 men during this awesome, nay gruesome, page in history.

And this HBO film is ONLY the beginning. Screenwriter Loring Mandel is now writing the sequel to "Conspiracy," which is called "Complicity." It's the story of a similar meeting, this time between leaders of the U.S. and Great Britain, a year later in Bermuda. By that time, 80% of the four million Jews had already been eliminated according to the detailed blueprint set forth at Wannsee.

The historic meeting which "Complicity" dramatizes -- which HBO has already OK'd to follow "Conspiracy" -- was, per Mandel, held to discuss what action the U.S. and/or Britain should take "to mollify public opinion which had grown (against the Nazi murder machine)" but, Mandel says, "the secret purpose was to put on a show while agreeing to do nothing."

Mandel says it was Breckinridge Long of the U.S. State Dept. who was the mastermind of the meeting and the one responsible for the policy of not admitting Jewish refugees. He kept the news from getting to the State Department. Long, per Mandel, didn't feel "Eastern European Jews were the kind of people the U.S. should bring into our country."

"When I listened to Patrick Buchanan (news - web sites)'s campaign speeches, I could hear Breckinridge Long talking in the background," Mandel says.

Characters who will be portrayed in "Complicity" include: FDR, Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Sumner Welles, Henry Morgenthau Jr., George Backer, publisher of the N.Y. Post, Sen. Scott Lucas, Rep Sol Bloom, Josiah Dubois and Randolph Paul of the Treasury Dept., Ben Hecht and Chaim Weizmann.

"Conspiracy" premiered April 30 at the Holocaust Museum in D.C. The Museum's historian, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, was a major contributor to the film's factual background. Monday night the film screened in Chicago at Northwestern University and Tuesday night it screens at the Skirball Center in L.A., and on Thursday in N.Y. at the Council on Foreign Affairs.

Tucci will attend the N.Y. screening. He told me, "I really want people to watch this movie. These are some of the best actors I have ever worked with. And one of the most interesting parts I have ever played -- to play someone that awful, in such a murderous way but like in a business meeting!"

"Conspiracy" was eight years in the making, director Frank Pierson admitted to me. He credits HBO Films president Colin Callender for giving the greenlight to the pic after Pierson tried to raise the $ to make it as in indie feature. He credits Mandel for "one of the best scripts I've ever had the pleasure of reading and the privilege of directing. He was there during two weeks of rehearsals and on the set all the time."

The script is an exact reproduction of the tape of that fateful meeting. Editor Peter Zinner, Pierson's longtime friend and coworker, who escaped from Vienna, July 4, 1938, had seen the Austrian-German film "Die Wannseekonferenz" and originally brought it to Pierson's attention.

"When I saw it I was stunned," Zinner told me. "I said to Frank, it had to be made (by us). And I insisted on editing it."

Pierson reacted similarly after viewing the Austrian-German pic. "I was mesmerized. I've got to do it," he said. "I've got to get it more exposure."

Zinner helped Pierson produce the HBO'er with Frank Doelger. The Wannsee site is now a Holocaust Museum. The HBO film crew shot there for five days, during which tours going through the museum were shocked at the sight of Nazi uniforms on some of the actors.

Pierson hopes there is some way to get this HBO picture into movie theaters, though the multiple showings on HBO itself may bring it an even bigger audience.

(8 May, thanks Marie, FilmLover, Karen)

OHMIGOD!  Pinch me now! If you're sitting back enjoying your copy of the audio Richard III I have news for you: THIS IS ALL FAR FROM OVER....

Branagh to Return as Richard III
The Independent, 5 May 2001

Kenneth Branagh is to return to the stage for the first time since his Hamlet for the RSC nearly 10 years ago. He agreed to take the title role in Richard III next spring after seeing Joseph Fiennes star in Marlowe's Edward II.

I haven't entirely regained consciousness yet, but stay tuned for more information very soon!

There are other bits of news (she says, trying to focus in her tizzy state): here's a review of the audio Richard III:

Richard III by William Shakespeare
(Naxos, £9.99; CD £13.99, 200 mn)

Peter Kingston
The Guardian, Saturday 28 April 2001

Kenneth Branagh dropped a thunderbolt last August. Would Naxos do Richard III with him? But it had to be within the next 10 days, because that was his only window. Naxos boss Nicolas Soames found the budget, studio and director, and mustered a spangled cast - including John Woodvine, Geraldine McEwan, Nicholas Farrell, Michael Maloney - and it was in the can a week later. This, the full text, is long and crowded, but the classic tragedy structure - the rise and fall of the principal character - becomes clearer. Branagh is a more honey-voiced than splenetic villain, leaving the text and a few hobbling steps at the start to conjure his deformity. He brings it off with a brio that belies his brief experience in audio. McEwan, a squeak short of melodrama as the cursing Queen Margaret, is magnificent.

"...belies his brief experience in audio"?? Mr. Kingston is obviously an audio-Branagh innocent, maybe we should point him to the FAQ and change his life.  :-)

How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog was named "Best of the Fest" at the Philadelphia Film Festival, which means it gets another screening on May 7, and could pick up the overall prize. I'm starting to think that film distributors are figments of the film industry imagination, or they didn't pass Distribution 101, which teaches you to pick up things that people like rather than flogging a bunch of loud, dumb and boring horses (I think they call them vehicles in the biz... for lame "stars").   :-)

(Cough) Returning to regular programing: you'll be able to catch How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog at the Lake Placid film festival in early June and the Newport film festival around the same time. And maybe at the 'real' Avignon Film Festival (as in "sur le pont d'Avignon, on y danse..."). Details when they come in.

Simon Callow has written a long article on The National Theatre and its future leadership for The Observer. You can read the whole thing online here, while the pertinent paragraphs are here:

Throughout theatrical history, the actor-managers led the theatre and the greatest of them all, the founder of the National Theatre, made sure that there was a steady stream of exceptional directors, not to mention an outstanding succession of remarkable big-scale new plays. A brilliant leading actor, in conjunction with a literary manager of genius, could transform the National, leading it from the front, making it not just a source of quality product but a unique creative organisation in which every production built on the one before instead of a series of ad-hoc triumphs.

I'm not appealing to some misty past. In terms of vital appeal to the audience, Mark Rylance is arguably the most successful artistic director in the country. The right person for the job at the National? Here's my short list: Ian McKellen, Fiona Shaw, Kenneth Branagh, Barrie Rutter, Steven Berkoff, Antony Sher. All are individuals of exceptional intelligence, energy, passion and talent who have stood up, night after night, year in and year out, in living proof of the power and pertinence of the theatre, celebrating in their own persons and with their unique presences what Edward Bond has so beautifully called the ancient novelties of the theatre. Let them have a turn at creating a National Theatre which offers something unique to the public, not more of the same, as Susannah Clapp seems to want.

Anf finally, I've dug up some photos: a still from Frankenstein, a wonderful Coriolanus photo, and a not-really-new but nice image from How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog.
(6 May, thanks FilmLover, Adela & Isabel, Virginia)

Aaaagh, I couldn't bear to leave y'all without a KB image for the week - and the kind souls in the Firth circle came to the rescue. Check out Karen's Conspiracy page, from which I have lifted these photos of Ken in super clean-cut (gulp) mode: Heydrich with Eichmann and Heydrich and a plane.
(26 April, thanks Rai, Karen)

Beans! I'm back from hanging out with the architectural historians, which included a lot of building ogling (hey, some of us like that kind of thing). There was a visit to a pristinely preserved Mies van der Rohe-designed board room which was pretty much up there with the thrill of Hamlet. I told myself it made up for missing How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog in New York. Sigh.

Guess what? They liked How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog in New York! So much that it won a prize at the Avignon New York Film Festival! Read the whole press release here.

Winning the Best American Feature was Michael Kalesniko's debut feature "How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog" starring Kenneth Branagh and Robin Wright Penn. In this witty and intelligent social comedy a cynical British playwright living in Los Angeles (Branagh), who has hit a creative dry spell, finds himself challenged to produce a "real" child by a wife (Penn) desperately in need of a family. (Kalesniko wrote the screenplay for "Private Parts.")
Yay! As well, we have here three exclusive comments from attendees (ve haf our vays to obtain zese things   :-) )
" How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog is charming, funny, sad, smart -- Ken has a role that fits him like a glove."

"It is such an intelligent and witty comedy that extoles the love of language and reaching out to others. All the performances are excellent and finely directed. The interaction between the characters is marvelous. Ken has brought to life yet another delicious character, quick witted and endearing."

"How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog is an intelligent, quirky, witty comedy. The film, like its hero, has a great love of language, and Ken is perfect for the part of Peter McGowan."

And - these are (almost all) New York critics!  :-)  *And* we have pictures (one and two) of director Michael Kalesniko and Suzie Hofrichter at the question & answer session. (Notice the pin Suzie has on her jacket.  :-) )  Look for the film in Philadelphia next. Then it will be in Dublin , and later in Lake Placid and Boston. Stay tuned.

So, Ananova has qualified the announcement about the Napoleon epic a bit:

Napoleon Epic Will Start Filming in Hungary

Work on a new made-for-TV epic about the life of Napoleon Bonaparte is to begin this August.

The major battle scenes of the four-part film by Gerard Depardieu will be filmed in the Tapolca Basin in Hungary. Christian Clavier will star as Napoleon, with John Malkovich and Isabella Rossellini also featuring.

Filming work will last from August 27 to October 2. The two producers Andre Szocs and Depardieu - who also has a minor role - say they want Sophia Loren and Kenneth Branagh for parts as well.

Depardieu says he chose Hungary after good experiences while filming Cyrano in the country.

This makes it sound a bit like Depardieu is directing... I'll bet he had good experiences - nice wine and food in Hungary. :-) They'll be there during the grape harvest...visions of Ken with purple feet...oops, he's the Tsar not a serf (better luck next time, ha ha).

Here's the Los Angeles Times review of Richard III:

If you need a tale to stir your blood, check out the latest production of "King Richard III," by William Shakespeare, starring Kenneth Branagh in the title role. (Naxos Audio; unabridged dramatization; three cassettes; three hours and 20 minutes; $17.98; performed by a full cast. Also available on three CDs; three hours and 20 minutes; $19.98.)

A top-notch cast of British actors breathes fire and passion into one of Shakespeare's earliest plays. Branagh shines as the Machiavellian prince determined to have the throne of England for himself, destroying those who stand in his way. Branagh captures the character's brilliance and persuasiveness, as Richard is a clever man who believes he can overcome predetermination at any cost.

The rest of the cast, especially Michael Maloney, Stella Gonet and Celia Imrie, is equal to Branagh's performance. As with all Naxos productions, this is enlivened with classical music. Several pieces by Janacek and a Russian Chant for Vespers enhance the play without overpowering the dialogue.

A miscalculation, however, is the use of an echo to remind the listener that this is a staged play. Presumably, it is to recall the ambient noise of a live production, but it just comes across as annoying.

Naxos has recently redesigned its packaging. Much larger than before, it is sturdy and handsome and will last longer than the cardboard boxes containing pricier audio books.

And HBO has put out a press release for Conspiracy:
Home Box Office and The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Midwest Regional Office Host the Chicago Premiere Screening of HBO Films 'Conspiracy'

Film Is a Dramatic Reconstruction of the 90-Minute Meeting That Set in Motion the Details of Hitler's Final Solution

CHICAGO, April 18 /PRNewswire/ -- On January 20, 1942, 15 men gathered in a villa on the outskirts of Berlin for a clandestine meeting that would ultimately seal the fate of the European Jewish population. Ninety minutes later, the blueprint for Hitler's Final Solution was in place.

Adolf Eichmann prepared 30 top-secret copies of the meeting's minutes. By the fall of the Reich, all had disappeared or been destroyed -- except one. The Wannsee Protocol, found in the files of the Reich's Foreign Office, is the only document where the details of Hitler's maniacal plan were actually codified, and serves as the basis for CONSPIRACY.

The invitation-only premiere screening is being held Monday, May 7, at the Thorne Auditorium, Northwestern University Lake Shore Drive Campus. The screening begins at 7:00 p.m. and will be followed by a panel discussion led by Dr. Michael Berenbaum who consulted on the film. Dr Berenbaum is a writer, lecturer, teacher and consultant in the conceptual development of museums and the historical development of films. He was the director of the United States Holocaust Research Institute at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He served as the project director for the Museum, overseeing its creation.

Starring Kenneth Branagh (Academy Award(R) nominee for 1996's "Hamlet" and 1989's "Henry V") and Stanley Tucci (Emmy(R) and Golden Globe winner for HBO's "Winchell"), CONSPIRACY recreates one of the most infamous gatherings in world history, the meeting at Wannsee, when the German High Command was mobilized by Reinhard Heydrich to implement their unthinkable plan -- the extermination of the Jews.

Debuting SATURDAY, MAY 19 at 9:00 p.m. (ET), the HBO Films presentation also stars David Threlfall (HBO's "Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story") and Colin Firth ("Bridget Jones' Diary").

Other playdates: May 22 (1:00 p.m.), 27 (12:15 p.m., 11:00 p.m.) and 31 (2:30 p.m., 11:55 p.m.), and June 4 (10:00 a.m., 8:00 p.m.), 9 (5:30 p.m.) and 13 (5:15 p.m.).

Directed by Frank Pierson (Academy Award(R) for writing 1975's "Dog Day Afternoon"; director of HBO's "Truman" and "Citizen Cohn"), CONSPIRACY is an HBO Films presentation and a co-production with BBC Films. The executive producers are Pierson, Frank Doelger (Emmy(R) for HBO's "A Child Betrayed: The Calvin Mire Story") and Peter Zinner (Academy Award(R) for editing 1978's "The Deer Hunter"); the producer is Nick Gillot ("Jakob the Liar"); the script is by Loring Mandel ("The Little Drummer Girl"). Jonathan Krauss, vice president, HBO Films, is the executive in charge of the film.

You can see a snippet (24 seconds to be exact, all of them thrilling  :-) ) of Kenneth talking to Graham Fuller about In the Bleak Midwinter/A Midwinter's Tale, in the context of a Hamlet interview (he's wearing that fab pewter-coloured shirt and suit combo) at PBM Productions.

Usually we have a photo finish, but I'm too cross-eyed to be sure I am posting something new, so I'll have to leave you in limbo until next time. I noticed a zillion typos in previous news updates (most of which probably comprised the lame attempts at humour), so I apologise.
(25 April, thanks Misato, Virginia, Jane, Jude, Kim, Grace, Susanna)

The web site for the Dublin Film Festival is up. There is a very small new picture from How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog (click on "program" and then scroll down and click on "next twenty", until you reach HTKYND).

The announcent for the special on Napoleon has turned up in Ananova (12 April 2001):

Kenneth Branagh Joins Cast of Napoleon Mini-series

Kenneth Branagh has joined the cast of a new mini-series about Napoleon.
The series will star French actor Christian Clavier as the Emperor. Isabella Rossellini will play Josephine, Gerard Depardieu plays Fouche, John Malkovich will take on the role of Talleyrand and Branagh will play Tsar Alexander.

The $35 million series is being directed by Yves Simoneau whose previous films include Mothers' Boys and the forthcoming Ignition. Production is due to begin in France on May 21.

The first copies of the audio Richard III have arrived, to rave reviews from purchasers. In case you want to be one of those here are the vital statistics to take to your local supplier: Audio CD - Naxos AudioBooks, ISBN: 962634217X; Audio Cassette - Naxos AudioBooks, ISBN: 9626347171.

Here's a snippet from an article by Scott Bernard Nelson in the Boston Globe, 15 April 2001:

"Working far outside of Hollywood, both literally and figuratively, Liam O'Mochain knew he wouldn't have a big budget with which to make or market his debut feature. The Dublin-based filmmaker figured the next-best thing would be to get a handful of Tinseltown luminaries to make appearances - with or without their knowledge.

Fake press pass in hand, O'Mochain crashed the 1998 Venice Film Festival and videotaped interviews with Kenneth Branagh, George Clooney, and Melanie Griffith, among others, trying to persuade them to make a trip to Ireland to participate in his project. Their "variations of no" made it into O'Mochain's road-trip mockumentary, The Book That Wrote Itself, one of 11 features, documentaries, and shorts that will screen at the Boston Irish Film Festival next weekend.

The star appearances are a gimmick, O'Mochain concedes, but one he hopes will convince audiences to give his film a chance.

"Irish films normally only get seen in Ireland, if they can even get distribution there," O'Mochain says. "There are some Irish-themed movies that get out, of course, but only ones Hollywood wants you to see." ......

You can read the whole article here

Here's another interesting site, where you can (if you've got an up-to-date browser) do a nifty comparison of the text used in Olivier's Henry V and in Kenneth's. " is dedicated to exploring how the web and web technologies can be used to teach Shakespeare and to encourage students to explore the relationships between play and screenplay, text and film, art and industry."

Finally, Japanese fans (and all who read Japanese) can now get all the latest Ken news in that language at KCB Headline News. You'll find this link added on the Links page, too.

Photos: Public Enemy redux: 1) Program cover;  2) learning the lines or inner peace or exhaustion ;   3) tripping the light fantastic.  And if that last one doesn't make your day you need serious drugs.  :-)
(16 April, thanks FilmLover, Robert Pastor, Misato, Jude)

The Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema web site is up and you can plan to see How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog. And send us a review...  :-)  There is a neat new photo - and, with perfect timing, Imagenes, a Spanish magazine, has published a larger version of a nice picture used on the Toronto Film Festival site in a teensy format.
(Random aside: If Lana Turner was 'the sweater girl' Ken must surely be 'the sweater (jumper to the UKers) boy': they may not be tight like Lana's (no jokes from the wags, please), but he has a real knack for wearing them.)

Way back I got to make a cheap joke about KB becoming the face of history as he purportedly signed up for yet another historical character, namely Tsar Alexander I. Well, here comes confirmation of the film:

From La Repubblica: (partial translation, click on the link to read all the neat RAI vs Mediaset gossip, in Italian)

The RAI steals the Napoleon "colossal" away from Mediaset
At Cannes it wins the series with Depardieu and Malkovich. The reply: "They are taking our discards."

By Silvia Fumarola     6 April 2001

The RAI has captured the colossal production of the year: 78 billion lire (ca. $38,500,000 US), 120 days of filming, a cast of stars - from Depardieu to Malkovich, sets in the most beautiful residences in France.
N, the story of Napoleon Bonaparte, inspired by the biography of Max Gallo, is the coup realised by Viale Mazzini [ed. note: the location of the headquarters of the RAI, not a guy called Viale, ha ha], which stole it away from Mediaset (which had announced it among its titles last year) along with the mega-project about ancient Rome, Imperium.

[ed. note: Skipping large blurb about recriminations and some really nasty comments]

[Channel 5 is quoted thus]: "The 8 hours about Napoleon were too much of a commitment for Channel 5, without any guarantee of an audience, given the results of Les Miserables,[so] we decided to drop negotiations."

Max Gusberti of Raifiction replies: "The public service [network] could not let this project get away, so much so that only 48 hours passed from the time of the meeting between Depardieu and the heads of the RAI to the approval by the Cda [ed note: some government body, I assume] and the signing of the contract.

The first "ciak" ("action") is set for May 22: Christian Clavier is Napoleon, Gerard Depardieu plays Fouché, Isabella Rossellini is Josephine, John Malkovich will play the part of Talleyrand, Claudio Amendola will be Murat, Tsar Alexander will have the face of Kenneth Branagh. Ives [Yves?] Simoneau, who directed the 'fiction-event' Nuremberg for American TV, has been entrusted with the direction. His name is also linked to the other colossal, Imperium, in which Depardieu will play Julius Caesar.

Apart from the overwhelming urge to repeat the 'Depardieu is only missing playing Joan of Arc [as Joan] to complete his career' joke, this sounds like costume drama heaven. I hope it will be marketed all over the place so we mere mortals get to see it.

So, they *are* doing it like they do it on the Discovery channel, having the Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special narrated by one Avery Brooks, and actually denying that this program or the original Walking with Dinosaurs was ever narrated by Kenneth Branagh. Okay guys, not the U.S. television version, because you changed the narrator, but the original, and the VHS/DVD versions. So there.  :-)

The audio recording of Richard III has begun being shipped by Amazon UK. Remember (especially my fellow Canucks) that you will also be able to order it from Poor Yorick, where you can pay with loonies and toonies ($1 and $2 Canadian coins... the names depressingly reflect the current laughable value of the currency  :-) ).

Eye gratification time: the nifty Onion interview photo has been linked to the article in the Reading Room. A photo of KB at the Tony Awards 2000 (I think I haven't posted this before... hopefully the fact that I'm losing my grip on new and not-new is due to the amount of images floating around and not an early sign of Alzheimers!)... And a close-up during the promotion of Love's Labour's Lost in Belfast in March 2000.
(8 April, thanks FilmLover, Isabel, Jude, Patricia, Jane)

Well at least some people appreciated The Periwig-Maker more than the Academy members. This transcript from the Roger Ebert show:

Roger Ebert and Michaela Perara on The Peri-Wig Maker:

Ebert: I also found a nice little movie while surfing the web. It's called The Peri-Wig Maker and was one of the Oscar nominees for best short film, and it's at

It's a stop-animation movie with a very particular look, detailed and kind of enchanting, about a man who locks himself into his house during the Great Plague of London. It's based on Daniel Dafoe's "Journal of the Plague Year" and it's narrated by Kenneth Branagh.

(clip of little man writing about how the plague is spread)

I like the way Branagh's voice is authoratative and yet confiding there, so that we kind of share that little man's paranoia. It reminded me of Branagh's brilliant performance on the audio books of Samual Pepys' Diary which also contains an account of the plague years and it's great when you go on the web and find this stuff. It's kind of habit forming to go from one site to another.

Michaela: I also had a chance to see that film and it's one of the strongest on-line films I think I've encountered - it's beautiful.
Thanks to Marilyn for the transcript

And an update on Big Al...
"Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special roars onto VHS and DVD on April 10th! The exciting sequel to last year's smash hit Walking with Dinosaurs, Allosaurus follows the story of Big Al from his birth through his exciting life all the way to his sad demise. Also included is The Science of Big Al where the paleontologists who discovered Big Al explain their theories about his life.

You can also catch the television premiere of Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special on Sunday April 8, 2001 at 9pm. Only on The Discovery Channel."

Course, there is no guarantee that it will actually be KB narrating the Discovery Channel version, since they had someone else do the voiceover on the first Walking with Dinosaurs. Let's hope they don't do it like they do it on the Discov-ery Chan-nel.  :-)

Have I got pix for you (thanks to the treasure chests of Jane and Sandra)! First up is a rerun of Kenneth in 1982 but this version comes with background details: a valiant plant, a side table some retro guys I know would kill for, and a rug that any doggie would feel at home on (giggle). Then we rush about 10 years forward with a promotional photo for the RSC Hamlet, and then forward a few more years to KB in his film-Hamlet look (looking tired but hot, and I'm not referring to the effect of the jacket). More to come soon....
(1 April, thanks Marilyn, Jude, Sandra, Jane)

Just a couple of quickies: HBO cleaned up their spelling of Ken's name(Dan Quayle, actually I think it was a few hundred Ken-Friends :-) ), but now the 'Avignon in New York' web site has him as Kennethy. Tee hee.

Schneider's 2nd Stage is showing at the Dead By Dawn horror film festival in Edinburgh, Scotland on Saturday, March 31st. Click on 'full programme' to find out the screening time. At least we know by this entry that the name of the festival doesn't refer to the quality of the late night viewing.  :-)
(28 March, thanks Isabel, Jude)

Beans! Of course the irrelevant Academy was sleeping (or smoking crack, as our Nockie used to say) and overlooked (I believe that's the phrase) The Periwig Maker. What do they know... (they only hit one (or maybe two) on the head in the whole bunch, though that's my opinion and what do I know?   :-) )

No much news, but a few pics. First up, here are Kenneth and Alica from Hello magazine (21 March 2001), with the caption "Kenneth Branagh and Alicia Silverstone enjoy a trip to the theatre in Southampton. The pair became close pals after filming 'Love's Labour's Lost' last year." Our global network of alert Ken-ians informs us that Richard Briers and his missus are appearing in a new play at Southampton's Nuffield Theatre. Alicia looks like she's ready to go along on the Shackleton shoot. (Is it seal-hunting season, do they still do that? Brigitte? - - Okay - I did not write any of this....)

Wooo hooo! How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog, showing at the Avignon in New York festival - April 21st at 7:15pm (I think it's right this time), has new festival venues,:

Two showings at the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema
DATE: April 28th at 9:15 pm
PLACE: Zellerbach Theater (University of Penn 37th & Walnut - 930 seats) (this is the "centerpiece" screening)
DATE: April 29th at 2:15 pm PLACE: Ritz 5 Theater (330 seats)

A screening at the Dublin film festival is still set for April 28th but the time is not yet available.

And regarding Ken's friends, one of our Ken-Friends has had the chance to interview Michael Maloney for the prestigious Italian weekly Espresso. You can read the interview (in English) here.

And three photos of Ken as I imagine Cecil Beaton might have captured him (and dressed him   :-) ): Debonair one, Debonair two, Debonair three.
(27 March, thanks Isabel, Toni, Jude, Cyn, Sandra)

Time waits for no man... so hurry over to the Yahoo-Multiple Sclerosis Society Fundraising Auction to see Kenneth's clock contribution, which includes a portrait of Hamlet and a skull somewhat resembling a piece of the popcorn you ate while watching the Hamlet film. Bidding is open for another 6 days.

If you want to see the actual goods, Yahoo and the MS Society have displayed all the clocks produced for the Famous Faces auction in the old C&A flagship store on Oxford Street.

The "I-stole-a-box-of-soap-powder" anecdote has been recycled once again, this time in the April issue of Biography magazine. Just in case you haven't read it sixteen times (where have you been?!), voilà:

What was your most embarrassing moment?
"In 1969 while I was living in Belfast, I stole a big box of suds from the supermarket. I brought it home to show my mother and she hit me across the head and told me I had to take it back. Can you imagine?? I had to walk back to that supermarket and give it to the man in charge and apologize."
You can read what might be the original version in Beginning. (When I retire to the funny farm I will put together that book-and-video entitled "Ken's Favourite Stories - Retold by Ken, Again and Again" - tee hee)

From a Daily Record online article about by Robert De Niro, this snippet (the link to the actual article has disappeared, when they say 'daily' they do mean on that day!):

De Niro laughs off the idea that he is as terrifying in real life as some of the nutters he's played on film.

He admits: "People find me intimidating, which is silly. It goes away after a while. It cannot be sustained for too long if you are working with people on a daily basis. "I am an actor - nothing more. I like a laugh more than most people. Some people think I get upset between takes when people start kidding around, but nothing could be further from the truth.

"Ken Branagh realised that when he cast me for Frankenstein. He started off treating me as some kind of special person and we ended up having a laugh, with me standing in my creature make-up."

And finally, HBO (Higher Bonehead Order?) doesn't know how to spell the names of the people it casts in its films (man, I hope the posters and flyers haven't gone to press yet). As ever, a case of Branaugh not brains. (There was also a two-day new title, 'Solution', but since 'Conspiracy' is back today, I guess it wasn't a solution...sorry  :-) ) But there is a bright spot: there are three nifty photos on the HBO site, along with the blurb. You can also see the pics here, here, and here. Alright, i'm just going to have to say it - KB looks damn good in (a very unpleasant) uniform.
(24 March, thanks Jane, Catherine, Lora, Rai)

Just back from the Montreal St. Patrick's Day parade (the oldest on the continent, 177th edition this year)... I actually go for a bagpipe fix (hey, everyone has their little foibles - if they ever gave Ken a bagpipe-playing role I would have to take Valium   :-) ), but all the other stuff is fun, too ... beer freezing in the snowbanks, etc. etc. But I digress... (and am wrong [get my Irish friends over here!] as Hannah wrote and politely pointed out that the NYC parade has been going for 204 years. Mea culpa!)

Correction on the showing time for How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog at the Avignon in New York film festival. It will be shown only on Saturday, 21 April at 6:30 p.m. rather than 9:30 p.m., with receptions before and after the film, as well as a Question & Answer session. The schedule still isn't up on the web site, but that's the latest word. As well, How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog will screen at the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema on April 28th at 7:15 p.m. as a "Centerpiece Film". Apparently it has been requested by tons of festivals, so stay tuned in case it turns up in your area.

Conspiracy will debut on 19 May 2001 on HBO in the United States. You can find the broadcast schedule on the HBO web site.

A snippet about Love's Lanour's Lost, kindly translated by Patricia:

Hearts at Work
Le Figaro Magazine, no. 1056 - 20th January 2001 - International Edition, p.89

There will always be purists who only appreciate Shakespeare on stage but one must acknowledge that, since the forties, dozens of films have served to underline the evident modernity of his work. We remember Welles’s legendary Macbeth, and Olivier’s Henry V, or his Hamlet, films which established a new link between theatre and cinema. A path eagerly and unselfconsciously followed by later directors like Baz Luhrmann, whose provocative direction made his Romeo and Juliet a baroque film coloured by Arcimboldo and Disneyland. In 1988, Kenneth Branagh, already a well-known actor, amazed everybody by directing his first Shakesperian film: Henry V. Much Ado About Nothing and then Hamlet, which received four Oscar nominations, followed. Love’s Labour’s Lost is his eighth movie. Written around 1590, this play isn’t well-known, but speaks about a universal and timeless subject: love, which renders men and women stupid when they are carried away by passion. Convinced that this early play contains many references to song and dance, Kenneth Branagh has the audacity to imagine it as a musical comedy. The action takes place at the end of an idyllic period, just before the Second World War. In the kingdom of Navarre, a young monarch and his three faithful friends swear to dedicate the next three years of their lives to study. They banish women, frivolity and love. But they don’t count on the unexpected arrival of the princess of France and her three lady companions… The script has only retained 30 % of Shakespeare’s text. While the structure of the film remains true to the original play, the story, considerably condensed, is "enriched" with ten songs borrowed from musical comedies from the 1940s : George Gershwin and Desmond Carter, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin… ‘Hits’ of the period are reprised and sung by the actors themselves. In the end, we watch this film, which delibrately makes use of a slightly out-of-date visual comicality , with renewed delight in the genre. The great winner, of course, is Shakespeare. Rustproof in all cases.    L.H.

A sweet photo of Ken and Em, with a reminder that you can see Emma in Wit on HBO on March 24th. And, sticking with black & white, an intense Victor.
(18 March, thanks Virginia, Jude, Patricia, Jane)

Neat news - there's an interview with Annette Schäffler at the Atom Films web site. Also a reminder that there is a small article about the Schäfflers here.

Bunch of news snippets:

"Those who enjoyed Walking with Dinosaurs can look for the sequel Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special (April 10), with an additional 30-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, stills, storyboards, and DVD-ROM extras."
For people with PAL system VCRs
You can pre-order the Love's Labour's Lost video (VHS) which will be released on March 26 for £13,99 from Amazon UK. The DVD is already available.
More nice Love's Labour's Lost news
LLL will be screening in Nagoya, Japan again(!) from March 17 to April 6!
And... finally, a really nice reward for reading this far... Footie Ken I and Footie Ken II. Someone's looking really happy! The gentleman going head-to-head with our KB is John Lynch, who plays George Best in the biographical film Best.

And last but not least (for today): Blue-eyes...thinking           (15 March (the Ides!), thanks Paula, Jude, Anna, Yu-ri, Becky, Jane)

Small update on the NYC showing of How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog. It will be shown only on Saturday, 21 April at 9:30 p.m. The venue is Florence Gould Hall at the Alliance Française. The web site for Avignon New York is linked here, but it has not been updated for 2001 yet.

From the April issue of Movieline:

"Kenneth Branagh has also come down with biofever - he'll star as Sir Ernest Shackleton for a megabudget four-hour A&E miniseries. Of all the actors playing real people, Branagh will probably suffer the most - he'll have to spend months in the bitter cold to play the Antarctic explorer who spent a year and a half stranded with his crew when their expedition to the South Pole went awry after ice crushed their ship."
Here are a couple of photos from the latest Branagh Bash in Healesville Victoria, Australia: Carole, Pamela, Caroline, Cathy and Paula, and Pamela, Sandra and Carole.

One new image has been added to the Romeo and Juliet series.
(12 March, thanks Virginia, Carole, Jude)

Hmmmm... looks like some of the Shackleton preparations (climbing lessons?) might have had an unwelcome side effect. This bit from coverage of the tribute to Sir John Mills in Hello magazine:

"Kenneth Branagh had written a long tribute but was unable to come along to read it himself because he had slipped a disc - "probably a platinum one", quipped his friend Stephen Fry, who stepped in to read it instead".
The future sliding-about-on-ice-floes in the Arctic might not be a picnic.

On a happier note, after the article about big bro' Bill, here's an article about little sis' Joyce.

From This is London (click here to see the original and the photo of Joyce), 5 March 2001.

Unveiling the other Branagh
by Robin Stringer

Previously known as Joyce Harper, the young trainee director at the little Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond has finally decided to come clean.

She now operates under her proper name, Joyce Branagh, opening herself to the slings and arrows of being sister of the famous film and stage director and actor, Kenneth Branagh.

"I wanted to succeed on my own merits," explained Joyce, who used her mother's maiden name to launch herself into the theatre.

"Now I feel I have got the basics under my belt. But I also wondered whether I was shooting myself in the foot by concealing my name."

Ten years Kenneth's junior, she has directed on the Fringe, and Hamlet in Ireland. She asked Kenneth's advice on Hamlet, which he has directed or starred in on screen and stage at least five times. "It would have been daft not to," she said.

At the Orange Tree, she has been helping director Sam Walters on his production of DH Lawrence's 'The Daughter-In- Law'.

Finally another showing (can distribution be far off? Just call me Pollyanna..) of  How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog. It will be shown at two festivals in April: Avignon New York, on April 20th and 21st, and also at the Dublin film festival (date to be determined). Michael Kalesniko, the director, and Nancy Ruff, the producer, will be attending both events.

There was an article in the Berliner Tagesspiegel about two German films which have picked up Oscar nominations. One of them is The Periwig-Maker and you can read a translation of the relevant bits and link to the film from here.

Get the VCR's ready. Here are some March screenings of Ken films (actor and/or director):
Hamlet (Branagh); TCM: March 13; TNT: March 11
Much Ado About Nothing; Encore: March 13, 29/30
Othello (Fishburn/Branagh/Jacob); TMC: March 9, 22, 26

I'm pleased to report a sighting of KB (well, it *looked* like KB   :-) ) in the bar after a performance by Michael Maloney in Mouth-to-Mouth, currently on at the Royal Court Theatre in London. There was no mention of a stretcher, so perhaps his back is better. Very good play, I am told.

The photo finish (some neat ones in waiting, they'll be doled out slowly, to keep you coming back to the site [dastardly laugh]). For today... the cover of the program and a gorgeous set of pictures of 'Romeo' and his cohorts, in rehearsal for "Romeo and Juliet" in 1987. The only thing missing is a virtual reality option to ruffle that amazing hair... :-)
(11 March, thanks Isabel, Cathe, Marilyn, Theresa, Jude)

Hey gang! ...emerging all ragged and dirty from digging deep down to find some news, any news... and.... there's not much... but I did turn up a couple of KB snippets.

But first to what is actually NEW... The Smithsonian Institute, wonderfully receptive to charming and genteel pressure from interested parties, has agreed to reissue the audiocassette of the delightful hour-long interview which Ken did with Susan Stamberg of National Public Radio around the time of the launch of Hamlet.... You can click here to read about the tape and order it. Needless to say, a demonstrated interest in the re-release of Kenneth Branagh material is always a good thing. (Will we ever see Henry V on the big screen again?)

There is an nice interview with Charles Sturridge linked off the Shackleton page. To see the original article with its accompanying pictures go here.

Fun stuff: there is an article about stars picking up souvenirs from the sets of their films which you can read here. The pertinent KB parts are:

... In fact, many movie legends don't bother asking permission to take souvenirs off film sets - running off with property seemingly at random and with little or no sense of remorse.

Even acclaimed actor/director Kenneth Branagh admits to frequent acts of thievery on every movie he has ever worked on.

... [big snip] ...

...   Fashion-conscious Kenneth Branagh is more inclined to pilfering garments from movies than simply shopping. He said: "I take something from the set of every movie I work on and I usually take the clothes. I have boxes of stuff from each one at home.

"I kept the clothes from Love's Labour's Lost because they were just so wonderful. I also have all the models of the sets in the film, which are very beautiful, in a room at home."

Based on the articles over the years, KB's home sounds more fascinating by the minute. Wonder if he'd consider offering tours... And now he's become "fashion-conscious". Giggle. Well, enough so to keep the stuff in boxes for posterity (or those tours).   :-)

Moving on from the world of finery (and approved nicking) to sports (where it appears only certain people are allowed to express enthusiasms):

From This is London

Football Notebook (13 February 2001)
by Martin Chilton

It's hard for any true football fan not to reach for the sick bag every time a luvvie starts spouting about the beautiful game so it is with a heavy heart that Notebook returns to the subject of Kenneth Branagh.

Branagh has appeared in this column before, when the self-proclaimed Tottenham, Glasgow Rangers and Linfield fan talked about what an "amazing dribbler of the ball" Stuart Pearce was. He has been gushing again about his most memorable football moment, when Sunderland beat Leeds in the 1973 FA Cup Final and manager Bob Stokoe ran on the Wembley pitch to hug goalkeeper Jim Montgomery.

Kenneth cooed: "I recall he had a wonderful pork pie hat, was it made of leather?" (No Kenneth, it was a trilby made of cloth) and added: "It was a real Hollywood moment - you felt there should be violins played over it. It was like a David Lean film."

The day they all become basketball fans can't come a moment too soon.

And the day the cliched writing about 'luvvies cooing' stops can't come a moment too soon, either.

There is a new link on the Links page: Jana's KB site, Shakespearessohn (that's Shakespeare's Son to you) is up.

Our usual photo finish: looking high and mighty as Henry and directing Michael Maloney in In the Bleak Midwinter/A Midwinter's Tale.
(4 March, thanks Debi, Grace)

So it won't be all icicles all the time during the Shackleton epic... from the The Hollywood Reporter :


Embeth Davidtz ("Mansfield Park") has landed a starring role opposite John Turturro and Miranda Richardson in director Ademir Kenovic's indie feature "Secret Passage". Davidtz and Richardson play sisters under exile because of religious persecution in the 15th century.

In addition, Davidtz will star with Kenneth Branagh in the A&E feature "Shackelton", based on the true story of the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackelton. Davidtz will play Rosalynd, Shackelton's mistress. Davidtz worked with Branagh on "The Gingerbread Man".

Davidtz, next stars in Universal Pictures/Miramax Films' "Bridget Jones' Diary",Warner Bros.' "13 Ghosts" and the indie feature "The Hole".

Now, just so y'all don't think Ken is falling into unwilling arms, I dug back into the archives and came up with these:

Embeth Davidtz from an interview in Empire:

"Ken, contrary to popular English belief, is actually a really good guy and a really generous actor to work with. I think he pulled the whole thing together in a way because he's got a certain energy and drive and he never interfered with what Bob was doing. But the way the pieces worked together I was very grateful most days that Ken was there because he helped me a lot."   (News archive, 1 July 1998)
And from an interview with Embeth Davidtz in the March issue of Detour:
"Q. Which of your Gingerbread co-stars would you prefer to kiss, Kenneth Branagh or Tom Berenger?
A. Ken Branagh.
Q. But he has no lips.
A. People always say that, but let me just tell you something: Kenneth is a Very Sexy Man. See, I'm an odd girl when it comes to what's sexy and what isn't. The particularly luscious-looking ones are not attractive to me. Ken is really smart, and that's what's sexy. Not to say that Berenger isn't sexy. . . But I just didn't connect with him like I did with Ken."   (News archive, 15 March 1998)

The transcript from KB's chat with the Homework High kids is now up on their site (scroll down to the bottom of the page). There's a copy archived in the Reading Room as well.

Just one pic today, but a 'sit down before you melt down' one with two fabulous guys. Truly a case of  "We're in the kitchen... Can I be in it, too?".   :-)  
(22 Feburary, thanks Ngoc, Jude)

Kids! While we wait for the transcript of Ken's stint on 'Homework High' a clever soul has sent along the link for the The Battersea Dogs Home - and a mighty cute site it is: hot dogs and cool cats.   :-) 

The other news is that the Shackleton project is now in the phase of costume fittings and climbing lessons. I guess it won't be Stanfield's (this is for the Canucks) or Goretex longjohns - I sense "authentic", as in freeze your butt. is taking advance orders for the Richard III audiotapes and CDs.

The pix o' the day: Smiley with Robin Wright Penn at the Toronto International Film Festival and looking pink and hedgehog-y at Cannes.   :-)
(19 February, thanks Paula V., Jude, Jane)

Woo hoo!  or rather Woof woof!  KB has a "very nice" dog called Susie (a Jack Russell terrier for the detail-oriented - I draw the line at linking to a web site... do a Google search   :-) )... she was adopted from the Battersea Dog's Home and hasn't "poo'd in the house." LOL! This news comes from the 'Homework High' chat held earlier today (or yesterday depending what time zone you're in). Lest you think they only talked about play and no work (ha, only a Ken-imposter would have let that happen!) it also transpires that (words from our roving reporters): "The Scottish Play is in the works - Ken's been working on the screenplay and will develop it more in a workshop with actors (didn't say who) this summer, presumably after Shackleton is finished. He wants to film it - didn't say whether he'd direct or not - by the end of next year", and "KB has been thinking about a sort of sequel to In the Bleak Midwinter - using the same actors/characters, possibly making a film or doing an open-air production - he's open to suggestions". (Here's one: can I serve the tea and run the errands?). Two other snippets, from the beginning and the end: "When he introduced himself at the chat, he said, "Hi, I'm Ken" and "he ended with a piece of advice. Be like Ernest Shakleton...Never Give Up".

There will be a transcript on the Homework High site, we'll link when it's up.

In the meantime, there is a new article in the Reading Room. It's the English translation of an interview you can read in French at the Télérama web site.

Can we close without a few pictures? Is this a rhetorical question? A series from A Month in the Country (with thanks to the Colin Firth fans): one, two, three, four, five. Could they be any more appealing?
(15 February, thanks Jude, Jane, Catherine, Beth, Paula, Patricia, Jana, Meluchie)

Be there or be square! (Do people still say stuff like this? On they do...) Where? In the chatroom of Channel 4's 'Homework High' web site tomorrow. The special guest will be none other than Kenneth B. Here's what they say:

Well, on Thursday 15th Feb from 7:30pm to 8:30pm, the actor/director/producer Kenneth Branagh will be in the Homework High chat room. What he doesn't know about Shakespeare's plays you could write on a very small piece of paper. So, if Shakespeare's your thing... Make sure you're there. You can ask him yourself!
UK 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm is 11:30am-12:30am Pacific, 2:30pm-3:30pm Eastern time. (These are the times when it sucks to have a day job - on the wrong continent. Sigh.)

In case you missed it on the top page, The Periwig-Maker has been nominated for an Oscar in the Short Film - Animation category. Obviously the superior narration played a big part in this!   :-)  

There is a nice photo of Ken from the rehearsal days (I think) for the American production of Public Enemy on the Irish Arts Centre web site (they were playing both sides with the spelling of his name...   :-) ). Scroll down to see it.

More coming tomorrow, including a few pics. Happy Valentine's Day! Hang in!
(14 Feburary, thanks Maura, Marilyn, Denise)

First up, another addition to the Shackleton articles page, specifically an article from the Daily Express, 13 January. Hmmmm...'first up' makes it sound like there's a lot more coming, but that's pretty much it... Although a little birdie tweeted that perhaps there will be "narration" (as in director's commentary one assumes) done for Henry V this summer, for the UK market initially, though obviously this would be a huge winner in North America, too. From the birdie's beak to God's ear.

And frankly, while we don't do gossip here - in theory anyway - it's been waaay too much of a desert lately. Man does not live by work alone... (though some seem inclined that way   :-) )

So, to mitigate the lack of news I dug into a personal stash of nifty KB goodies (gift of the amazing Grace) and offer you two pics from the program of Renaissance Theatre's production of Twelfth Night: the cast (note the suave Richard Briers), and another page featuring members of the cast and the übercute director. The übercute director photo is already featured in the Photo Gallery here. Then, we have a caricature from the Sunday Telegraph, from 27 June 1999 - a bit different from the usual flippy-haired perky ones. That's Woody Allen tiptoeing in the background.

And two other pics: Guy after his baptism (which only slightly bent that lovely hedgehog-gy hair) and En guard! Which is what we are, looking out for news.   :-)
(9 February, thanks Laura, Marilyn, Grace, Heidi)

Alas, poor us, we will have to wait a bit longer for those Shakespeare films KB had planned to make. It's all over the papers, as they say, and the articles have been gathered together here. Perhaps when the films do get made they will be marketed and distributed by people who use their heads rather than their calculators (had the Love's Labour's Lost honchos used their heads they would have been able to use the " + " more on their calculators...).

So.... pics: Sunshine Boy (okay, it's a golden palm frond, but he's radiating some sort of light  :-) ). Striking a model-y pose. A last but not least, a fun one: 'You that way : me this way'.

Hopefully I'll be updating the Photo Gallery soon, moving the pics from the June to December News & Notes - which have now moved to the Archive - into the Gallery. If you're here reading this - you are up to date.   :-)
(3 February, thanks Catherine, Marion, Susan, Jana, Jude)

Somewhat later than planned... but definitely worth waiting for: the Production Notes from How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog! Read and enjoy! Our Brussels Film Festival attendees loved the film and there are many, many, many fingers crossed that distribution will become a reality.

KB made an appearance on the UK program This is Your Life with a video message for the Irish actor James Ellis, whose life was being celebrated.

Pics of the day: a series of press photos from Ken's visit to the Film Festival in Valladolid, Spain, to promote In the Bleak Midwinter.
(28 January, thanks Catherine, Katherine, Adela, Isabel)

Ciao 2beans (or not 2beans)!  First up: a French web site for Love's Labour's Lost. Some nice pics and you can watch the trailer with French subtitles and see snippets dubbed in French.

Speaking of LLL here is a paragraph from Chuck Rudolph, a guy who 'got it'. This is from his year-end review of films, which you can read here.

Love's Labour's Lost (Kenneth Branagh)
What made this energetic mix of Shakespeare and jazzy big band music (one of the more original takes on the Bard's text ever committed to celluloid) magical was how the movie wasn't just set just before WWII, but completely eschewed the filmmaking aesthetics for the musicals of that period, creating a modern-day movie that could have been buried in a vault for 60 years and only now was seeing the light of day. This is the year's most underrated movie.
Yessss! Chuck knows his stuff!   :-)

On the Shackleton front: already looking like a seaman (is that a pea-jacket? be still my beating heart!) KB visited Dulwich College as part of his Shackleton immersion (no pun intended). Read about it here, and see the pics here and here.

As luck would have it, now that there is real news I find myself strapped for time.... but tomorrow or Thursday there will be a MAHvellous How to Kill Your Neighbour's Dog update, so stayed tuned: it will be worth it!

I leave you with two snaps from Look Back in Anger at the Lyric Theatre. 'There he goes again...' and When words fail, twist up your hands.
(23 January, thanks Isabel, Marilyn, Virginia L., Jude)

So, finally the Brussels International Film festival site is up and running, no visuals for How to Kill Your Neighbour's Dog, alas. The film will be shown this weekend, and we do have our designated viewers ready. Stay tuned!

Also, Love's Labour's Lost has opened in France and you can see the French poster here.

Finally, a link to a great Shackleton site has been added from the Shackleton page.
(19 January, thanks Film Lover, Denise, Anna)

Not too much news (I'm sounding like a broken record) but here's a Canuck alert:
To be shown on Star (presumably a Canadian cable channel)

Lucky Breaks - Episode 2 - Stage to Screen

Many Canadian actors begin their careers on the stage. In this episode Lucky Breaks travels to one of the most important theatre festivals in Canada and talks to just a few of the many artists who got their first big break at the Stratford Festival. Writer Timothy Findley recounts how he came to be chosen for the inaugural Stratford company and how that subsequently led to his writing career. Actor Paul Gross (of Due South fame) talks about his starring role in Hamlet, and how a student job at Stratford cast him on his acting path. Martha Henry, Kenneth Branagh and Colm Feore also reveal the fateful moments that changed their lives forever.

Air date: Saturday January 20, 2001 and Sunday January 21, 2001

I imagine this will be the "I saw Derek Jacobi in Hamlet and it changed my life" thing, but you can never get enough of that, and you get Colm Feore, too... wooo hooo!

And since there is no hot gossip here are some pics to keep you perky in this dead of winter or summer: Here's looking at you (version two); Oh, to be Ophelia!; three more photos for The Blond Ambition series: Blond One, Blond Two, and Blond Three.... and last but not least, Young Renaissance pup.

And, finally, one year ago on this day a very lucky bunch of us had the kick-ass pleasure (Nockie was there and I'm channeling her) of listening to the tributes to Ken, and to his graceful, gracious and kick-ass thank-you speech, at the Golden Quill Award ceremony. Good times!
(16 January, thanks Alexandra G., Jude, Jana)

If I were Kenneth's mum I'd be worried sick about this Shackleton thing... he'd better take a really good cell phone along and call her every other day. Read why in the latest article.

And.... a photo from the New York/Oz mini-Branagh Bash (Paula, Virginia, Jane and Carole). A lovely pensive autographed pic and wonderful pics, one and two, taken by Marci at the Golden Quill Ceremony will have to tide you over until the next bit of news arrives.
(11 January, thanks Film Lover, Jane, Marci)

Yeah, yeah - this is overdue... well, you had time to read the feeble updates all over the Compendium while you were waiting for the news (and I was madly trying to find some)... which is that... "Shackleton" will begin filming on April 2 at Shepperton (is it cold enough there?  :-) ). Seems that KB will be getting in shape in the interim (cue eyebrow waggling and beating heart). My wee garden resembles Antarctica more each day - the pre-filming training in a tent (with optional hot toddies) offer still stands (do the Film Four people read this sorry page?).

More details on the showing of How to Kill Your Neighbour's Dog at the Brussels International Film Festival - you read them here first, since the flash BIFF web site is not flash in terms of time: they're still showing last year's program... Anyhow, HTKYND is showing on 20 January at 8:15 p.m. at Cinema Kinepolis and 21 January at 5:15 p.m. at Cinema Kladaradatsh, Palace 2. Michael Kalesniko and the producer will be in attendance (and hopefully signing a huge go-to-every-single-cinema-in-the-world deal right after the showing).

I have a bunch of Ken & Em pics for you today (heaving a sigh)... yet another pic from the London Much Ado premiere, smiley in front of the exit sign, with a gorgeous Em, and all dressed up and somewhere to go. And - by himself - doing the guru thing and looking hot (there's no other word for it, and it should be in caps) in his many (re)incarnations in the same pic.   :-)

Finally... remembering the good old days of Hamlet on the big screen (Milanesi! - that's people in Milan Italy! It's being shown at the Cinema de Amicis, 13 January at 16:20, check out the Repubblica web site for details)... here's a cute New Yorker cartoon.
(9 January, thanks Isabel, Patricia, Adela, Jana, Virginia)

Happy New Year, all! Not much news in Branagh-land, or none that's getting conveyed to us anyway. Here are some snippets:

Stylefile - The Scotsman 28 December 2000
BY Helen Stewart

Alexander Technique Sessions

Actors such as Kenneth Branagh and Joanna Lumley swear by the life-enhancing qualities of the Alexander technique, which teaches you how to use your body more effectively. You're probably creating tension right now, hunched over and using twice as much energy as you need to, just reading this newspaper. As the first of your New Year's resolutions, treat yourself to an Alexander technique session with STAT certified teacher Michal Segal and learn how to relax at the same time as getting on with the business of life.

Belfast Telegraph Tuesday, 2 January 2001

Movie Snaps
By Colin McAlpin

In a major new book - Shakespeare on Screen by Daniel Rosenthal (Hamlyn: £20) - the current popularity of the Bard's works on screen is down to one man ...our own Kenneth Branagh.

Branagh's brilliant 1989 hit, Henry V, showed that Shakespeare could be every bit as good as - heck, better than - any of the over-sexed, over-violent and under-written rubbish that too often fouls the screen.

And his subsequent follow-ups such as the wonderful Much Ado underlined this. So it seems you wouldn't have enjoyed all those recent Shakespeare movies if it hadn't been for the talented Mr Branagh.

Hear, hear! Mr. Rosenthal knows whereof he speaks. And finally, this bit from an interview with Emma Fielding in the Sunday Times ("Not Just a Pretty Voice, by Cosmo Landesman, 31 December 2000):
Playing devil's advocate, I try to lead her into temptation: "But Emma, don't you want fame, lots of money, a trailer bigger than Kate Winslet's, tea with Ken Branagh, dinner with lovely darling Judi Dench? Aren't you ambitious?"
I assume he was being facetious, but hey, if that's the definition of fame I'll take it. Actually, forget the money and the trailer, and make it tea with Dame Judi and dinner with der Kenster.   :-)

To start off 2001 a couple of Hamlet and Ophelia flashback photos: cat's cradle without the string and a smooch, and a pic of the director (thinking "maybe we should do that again?").
(3 January, thanks Catherine, Jane, Jana)