Is This A Winner I See Before Me?
Belfast Telegraph, May 21 1999
by Eddie McIlwaine
Can Kenneth Branagh succeed
with his new screen version of Macbeth where other movie legends
When Kenneth Branagh shoots his
modern version of Macbeth later this year the inspiration will
belong to a nondescript semi in Mountcollyer Street off the Shore
Road in Belfast where Ken had a kind of misspent youth.
In the hours after school awaiting
the return from work of his joiner dad Billy and mum Frances
from her part- time job young Branagh did his homework and for
the rest of the afternoon watched old black and white movies
"That's where I got hooked
on big pictures for the first time, where my future was honed,"
he has told me several times.
And the film that caught his
eye was the 1948 Orson Welles version of Macbeth with Welles
both taking the lead and directing which impressed the youngster
And that is precisely what Branagh,
who left Belfast and settled with the family in Reading when
he was nine, intends to do in 1999 both play the title role and
direct the action, only in modern dress.
A kind of action replay of Welles
only, he is praying, with much better results at the box office.
The big attraction of course
would be his true love Helena Bonham Carter, of the impish face,
as Lady Macbeth. She would be perfect in the role. And her opposite
Ken would be a box office dream.
Orson was dogged by ill luck
right from the first whirr of the camera in 1948.
Ken will be keeping his fingers
crossed that he will be more fortunate with this Shakespeare
classic than his hero who once played the Opera House in Belfast.
This was unquestionably the movie
that gave Orson his biggest headache.
There is no doubt though that
the great man got it all wrong. With a limited budget he inexplicably
set out to produce his work on a western ranch using all the
economics and logistics of a B-western on a tight three week
The result was mayhem despite
that marvellous Welles voice, which couldn't save the production.
It wasn't helped at all by an abject Lady Macbeth from Jeanette
Nolan. It was so bad Welles didn't make another Hollywood movie
for 10 years.
Branagh will have noted all the
pitfalls that even the legendary Orson couldn't avoid. He will
be mindful of experts who say Welles took on too much as both
director and star.
Nevertheless, he will ignore
the warnings and take on both exacting roles too.
Ken was still watching from the
settee in his parlour when the 1960 George Schaeffer- directed
version of the Shakespeare piece reached the television screen.
It was memorable at least for the performance Schaeffer coaxed
from Judith Anderson as Lady M.
However, the critics dismissed
it as solid and uninspired.
So perhaps the time is right
enough for Branagh, who has had considerable success with Shakespeare
up till now, to give us his interpretation.
But will he pay any attention
to the most controversial Macbeth of all - the 1971 film directed
by Roman Polanski in which delectable Francesca Annis delivered
the Lady Macbeth dream speech in the nude?
When it reached the screen there
was uproar, not so much because of the bare limbs, more because
of the extreme violence and gore.
Roman's personal life and the
fact that this was a Playboy enterprise didn't help at all.
I look forward to Ken Branagh's
Macbeth with interest. No doubt he will bring it to Belfast for
a charity premiere. He has done that with most of his big movies.
He never forgets the city and likes to take a dander around north
Belfast when he is here.
The question being asked of course
in movie circles concerns his relationship with Miss Bonham Carter.
There has been talk that they
will wed soon but Ken after his failed marriage to Emma Thompson
who is still a good friend, it has to be said will be more cautious
You have to admire the way Branagh
goes about his life quietly, ignoring the trappings of stardom
and with a word for everyone with whom he comes in contact. The
taxi driver who delivers him to the set is given the same treatment
as the industrialist investing millions in his next tussle to
put Shakespeare on a big wide screen.
I like that.
Back to Articles Listing
Back to the Compendium