Articles and News Updates on the Shackleton Mini-series  (reverse chronological order)

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An Interview With Charles Sturridge
  Kenneth Branagh's Dynamic Performance Breaks the Ice, Orlando Sentinel, 7 April 2002  
Astonishing Feats of Endurance, New York Daily News, 3 April 2002 Interview with Kenneth Branagh, TV Guide Canada, April 2002 Branagh's Brilliant as the Flawed Hero of the Arctic, Sunday Express, 6 January 2002
BBC News, 6 January 2002 At Last I've Warmed to Branagh the Heroic Iceman, Mail on Sunday, 6 January 2002 Television Branagh Superb in this Chilling Thriller, Belfast Telegraph, 5 January 2002
Be an Armchair Critic, Guardian, 3 January 2002 Evening Standard - Hot Tickets,2, 3 January 2002 Branagh Ice Pick, Belfast Telegraph, 29 December 2001
The Ultimate Endurance Test, The Independent, 29 December 2001 Ice Warrior, What's on TV, 22 December 2001-4 January 2002 Christmas Wouldn't Be Christmas Without Snow, Radio Times, 22 December 2001-4 January 2002
In from the Cold, The Scotsman, 22 December 2001 Going with the Floe, Time Out, 19 December 2001 The Importance of Playing Ernest, Sunday Times, 9 December 2001
Shackleton: Voyage to the Ends of the Earth, Sunday Times, 9 December 2001 The Iceman Kenneth, The Observer, 9 December 2001 Branagh Tells of Icy Adventures , MSN News , 6 December 2001
Branagh Toughs It Out in Antarctica, Yahoo News 5 December 2001 Branagh 'Terrified' During Filming of Polar Expedition, Ananova, 5 December 2001 Kenneth Branagh Visits the College, Dulwich College news, January 2001
Brrr-anagh Faces Ordeal in Ice to Play Polar Hero, Daily Express, 13 January 2001 A&E in Ship Shape, Variety, 13 January 2001 Branagh of the Antarctic Plans to Retrace Explorer's Journey, Independent, 21 November 2001
Branagh in Pole Position to Play Antarctic Explorer Shackleton, The Scotsman, 20 November 2001 Branagh Braves the Pole for Shackleton Epic, Sunday Telegraph, 17 September 2000 Branagh in Talks to Star as Antarctic Explorer, PA News, 7 July 2000
Kenneth Branagh's Dynamic Performance Breaks the Ice in A&E'S Miniseries Shackleton

Orlando Sentinel, 7 April 2002
by Hal Boedeker

The miniseries Shackleton is ambitious, handsome and chilly - chillier than it needs to be. The dramatization of Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914 expedition to Antarctica fits too snugly in the stuffy movie tradition of great-man biographies. Yet the four-hour production boasts two awesome assets.

As the stubborn, heroic Shackleton, Kenneth Branagh gives a blazing performance that often cuts through the cold.

And in a feat of moviemaking magic, the Antarctica scenes look credible and harrowing: The lavish production filmed in Greenland, Iceland and London studios, Shackleton is almost always fascinating to watch even when it falls short dramatically.

Writer-director Charles Sturridge, who oversaw 'Gulliver's Travels' and 'Brideshead Revisited', tells the story with respect and style but not enough context. No one should wander into this miniseries without knowing Shackleton's life, the history of Antarctic exploration or that the Irish adventurer failed to reach the South Pole twice before. After others beat him to the South Pole, Shackleton wanted to cross Antarctica on the ill-fated 1914 trip. An A&E Biography, 'Ernest Shackleton: Looking South', is indispensable. Unfortunately, it debuts at 8pm Monday, right before part two.

The Shackleton adventure works better as a documentary, as PBS' Nova proved March 26 with a film that drew on footage and photographs of the real adventure, the men's words, their descendants' observations and experts' insights.

The chief problem with A&E's miniseries is that most crew members fail to emerge as compelling individuals, and that thwarts the story's emotional pull. One exception is Frank Hurley (Matt Day), the photographer who preserved the saga for posterity.

The slow-moving first half details Shackleton's efforts in drumming up financial support, assembling his crew and setting off on his ship, the Endurance. Part one concludes with the ship becoming stuck in the ice in the Weddell Sea. The rushed second half explains how Shackleton and his 27-man crew carried on after the ship broke apart and sank 10 months later. (The ship's destruction is a technical marvel.)

The crew's survival represents one of the most astonishing adventures in history. The men spent nearly six months on an ice floe. They traveled for six days in three lifeboats to Elephant Island. Then Shackleton and five others traveled 870 miles, over 17 days and rough waters, in one boat to South Georgia Island. It "would be ranked as one of the greatest boat journeys ever accomplished," Caroline Alexander writes in "Endurance". After that, Shackleton and two men walked for 36 hours across the mountainous island to reach a whaling station. Next, Shackleton spent three months trying to return to Elephant Island to rescue the men. The saga, long overshadowed by World War I, has emerged recently as a story of deft management under dire circumstances.

Mr. Branagh's dynamic performance will add to the legend, and it justifies all the soaring music. He excels in playing the leader's drive and resourcefulness in keeping the men alive. The actor also establishes Shackleton's selfishness, his public relations savvy and his regret at hurting a loyal wife by keeping a mistress. Mr. Branagh won an Emmy last year for HBO's Conspiracy, a World War II drama, but he's more impressive here.

Shackleton deserved to be longer. It needed more feeling to match its technical wizardry and more carefully drawn foils for its shrewd hero. All in all, however, the miniseries is too harshly beautiful to ignore.

From the Sunday Express, 6 January 2002
by David Stephenson
(Thanks, Catherine)

Branagh's Brilliant as the Flawed Hero of the Arctic

Faced with insurmountable odds - blizzards, metling ice floes and sauteed Husky - Kenneth Branagh, in last week's superb drama SHACKELTON, turned to Robert Browning. Who better to inspire the troops than a dead poet? In his now polished "once more unto the breach" tones from Henry V, a heavily icicled Branagh let 'em have it: "For sudden, worst turns the best to the brave". Hmm. Brief, yes, but to the point. The men loved it and battled on. I was so inspired I turned up the central heating.

Shackleton was quite the best TV drama I'd seen in years - leaving aside the 'Who Shot Phil Mitchell' episode in EastEnders, of course. Apart from the final 10 minutes, which was strangely undramatic, Shackleton was first-class - terrific acting, great action and beautiful photography. The setting (most of it was shot in the Arctic) was so sumptuous and the acting so realistic that part two was quite difficult to stomach as you watched the expedition slip further and further into disaster. And it was happening in slow motion with a terrible inevitability.

The period detail, too, was immaculate, not least the rooms of the Royal Geographical Society, where the stuffed shirts of the day mulled over how little money they would be giving to the aptly-named Ernest. But the bravest aspect of the production, the most expensive drama ever mounted by Channel 4, was the decision to write Shackleton as a man with imperfections rather than a whiter-than-white hero.

Early in part one, it was revealed that he was having an affair. he also used monies, donated for the expedition, to pay off his brother's debt. The drama showed Shackleton as a single-minded and stubbornly determined man who would let nothing deflect him from his ambitions. The fact that he decided to mount such an extraordinarily difficult trip (who would even attempt it now?) on the eve of the Great War may seem questionable, but at the time, most thought the conflict would be over by Christmas. Even the King gave his blessing. His wife, played sympathetically by Phoebe Nicholls, summed up the explorer as he wavered over whether to go ahead with the venture after she'd discovered his bit on the side: "You have to go. If you didn't, who would you be?" Unforgettable television.

From BBC News, 6 January 2002
(Thanks, Marci)

Like the channel's Longitude two years ago, it is a rich, true story with a complex tale told very fast, with first-rate acting.

Its sheer speed is a problem at times. An hour or more is spent on the preparations for Shackleton's voyage, with myriad scenes and characters flying by. In any expedition tale the preparation scenes risk being boring - there is no drama as you know the voyage will go ahead.

Yet by lobbing so many scenes and ideas at us, Shackleton makes the viewer understand just what the personal cost of this expedition was to be.

It also meant the actors had to be quick and strong to do more than just tell the plot. Without exception they were, but none more so than star Kenneth Branagh. Now known most for an almost unhealthy obsession with making Shakespeare films, Branagh is remarkably good on television. He is as good here as in his career-launching performance in the BBC's tremendous 'Fortunes of War' in the 1980s.

That was a glorious wartime fiction, but Shackleton, also set against a war background, startles more. We are surprised when suddenly shown scenes that are familiar from the famous photographs of the real expedition. These add to the realism and ultimately to the utter cold of it all. Those images, the sight of the ship Endurance and the realistic sound of the ice make this simply fantastic.

It is also a treat to see a drama that you know cannot become a series.

From the Mail on Sunday, 6 January 2002 by Max Davidson
(Thanks, Catherine) At Last I've Warmed to Branagh the Heroic Iceman

First, a confession. I have a problem with Kenneth Branagh. Ever since he got delusions that he was Laurence Olivier, taking on the great Shakespearean roles when he was barely out of short trousers, he has struck me as an absurd figure, punching way above his weight.

In 'Shackleton', finally, he found a part commensurate with his talents: a down-to-earth hero without a trace of bombast; a leader who inspired respect, not fear. His natural kindliness shone through, and as his expedition to the Antarctic turned into a life-and-death struggle against the elements, it was not his physical courage but his sense of comradeship in adversity that was most affecting. he loved his men and they returned that love with interest.

So often these big-budget productions - and Shackleton cost more than 10 million, a record for Channel 4 - can seem disappointingly cinical. But under the sure direction of Charles Sturridge, this one pulsed with life.

The smallest cameo roles were vivid and three-dimensional; and as action shifted from Edwardian London, with Europe teetering on the brinkg of war, to the bleak polar wilderness, there was a real sense of mounting excitement.

Quite simple scenes, such as Shackleton and his men singing shanties to keep up their spirits, glowed with warmth and tenderness. You wanted these men to survive because you cared about them. The scenery was secondary.

From the Belfast Telegraph, 5 January 2002

Television Branagh Superb in this Chilling Thriller
By Janet Devlin
(Thanks, Ngoc)

Without doubt, the outstanding programme of the week was Shackleton (Wed/Thur, 9 pm, C4), written and directed by Charles Sturridge, and starring Kenneth Branagh.

Branagh was utterly convincing as arctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who never achieved Scott's legendary status, but did get his men home alive. Indeed, Shackleton made a habit of putting survival before posthumous glory. "The fashion these days is for dead heroes," he lamented.

It seems strange to us now that, at the turn of the last century, anyone should want to cross the frozen wastes of the Antarctic. Nevertheless, the poles were among the last inaccessible places on earth, and Shackleton's expedition caught the public imagination. A born PR man, he flogged his trip to the tabloids and charmed money out of the great and the good.

The first part of the drama, which was beautifully filmed and reeked of authenticity, traced the birth of the 1914 expedition. Europe was on the brink of war but, convinced hostilities would be over in weeks, applicants 'mad, hopeless and possible' flocked to join the adventure.

Their ship was named Endurance, after the Shackleton family motto 'By Endurance We Conquer'. The explorer's antecedents were uncertain: there was a reference to 'teetotal' songs taught to him in Ireland but I'm sure it was just coincidental that, as he fled his dying ship, Union Jack rolled up under his arm, he declared: 'No Surrender!'

What is a matter of record is that Endurance became trapped in ice floes off the South Pole - conditions were unusually harsh that year, and the ship was not built to survive the crushing power of ice. The men abandoned ship, killing their beloved dogs and ship's cat, and hauled three longboats to the open sea, sailing to Elephant Island, from where Shackleton and six others sailed the 870 miles to South Georgia. Conditions were atrocious, with temperatures way below freezing and food in very short supply. They were cold, weary and hurting - but never beaten.

Yes, they were lucky, but they had more than luck on their side - they had Shackleton, a flawed man of less than scrupulous personal and financial standards, but also charismatic, compelling and utterly determined. "My job is to get you home - every single one of you," he vowed. And he did, although it took him another four months to mount a rescue.

After landing on South Georgia, he left four men on the beach while he and two others trekked to a whaling station on the other side of the island. A mountain lay in between him and salvation. But it did not stop him. Nothing was going to stop him. Not ever. Expedition photographer Frank Hurley's haunting pictures vividly illustrate the crew's fight for survival. I thoroughly recommend Alfred Lansing's book Endurance: The Greatest Adventure Story Ever Told (Phoenix Press, GBP12.99) for anyone with a little vicarious adventure in their hearts.

From The Guardian, 3 January 2002

Be an Armchair Critic: Write Your Own Review
Owen Gibson

Shackleton: Channel 4's four-hour epic on Shackleton's trip to the South Pole
Channel 4, Wednesday January 2, 9 pm

Charles Sturridge writes and directs this four-hour, two-part epic on the journey to the South Pole of Sir Ernest Shackleton, played by Kenneth Branagh. It's also the most expensive drama ever made by Channel 4. Last night's opening episode set the scene, while tonight's concluding part sees stiff upper lips begin to wobble and Branagh's beard lengthen as the party face ever more challenging obstacles.

James Walton, Daily Telegraph
Verdict: took too long to set sail
"The whole programme is definitely lovely to look at... For a while it was interesting to see how Shackleton went about raising the money and generally preparing for his expedition to cross the Antarctic continent. Nonetheless, the longer this went on, the more you felt you'd got the point and it was about time the party set sail... My guess is that Shackleton will take off tonight when the proper adventure begins. Even so, I still think that it should have begun already."

Jane Shilling, the Independent
Verdict: beautifully filmed, but the jury is out
"It has hard at this half way stage to tell whether Sturridge's luxuriant approach to his subject will work... Whether the charm of both production and performances is underpinned with sufficient steeliness to make the heroics quite credible will emerge in tonight's concluding episode."

Christopher Mathew, Daily Mail
Verdict: the part was made for Branagh
"He not only looks like Shackleton but seems to exude the very strength of personality that enabled the explorer to command men in the grimmest conditions and persuade them to go on when all hope seemed lost."

Anna Pukas, Daily Express
Verdict: incredible
"The Endurance story was not about one hero and nor was this a film about one actor... I nominate Matt Day, in a mesmerising and mature performance as the photographer Frank Hurley, for the Next Big Thing. When he is on screen, he owns it... I could have watched the whole thing again."

Joe Joseph, the Times
Verdict: breathtaking photography but a bit ponderous
"He (Branagh) is a wonderful actor but you rarely fall quite head over heels in love with him on the screen... Charles Strurridge, who wrote and directed Shackleton, has produced some breathtaking images, even if you sometimes wish he had distilled the story into maybe two or three hours. It is an hour-and-a-half before we catch a glimpse of snow."

From The Evening Standard - Hot Tickets
by Frances Lass

2 January
Like Shackleton's 1914 transantarctic expedition itself, this behemoth of a two-part dramatisation begins badly yet ends heroically. Written and directed by Charles (Longitude) Sturridge and starring Kenneth Branagh, it's the most expensive programme Channel 4 has made. Every frame drips evidence of the vast sums of money chucked at it, but it takes too long to get going. The exposition, which absorbs most of the first two hours, drags like an asthmatic husky through a blizzard. Lovely though the sepia-tinted interiors are, it isn't until the Endurance gets ice-bound does this Boys' Own adventure really tighten its stranglehold on your heart. Meanwhile, we have a hyperactive Branagh acting his woolly socks off, juggling family life with efforts to raise money and assembling his team. Unmissable.

3 January
No apologies for steering you Shackleton-wards for the second time. For a start, it is monumental enough to deserve further comment and secondly, the other channels have nothing to match it. Familiar from the several documentaries made about it, the story is faithfully reproduced using the expedition's photographic archive for reference. Which explains the inflated role of the expedition's Australian cameraman Frank Hurly and the Aussie dollars pumped into the co-production. That money has been put to good use. The suffering inflicted by cruel weather conditions and inadequate clothing is etched on the faces of the superb team of actors, especially Mark McGann, Lorcan Cranitch and Kevin McNally (even if you can't always see their breath in sub-zero temperatures). Watch with a hot toddy and layers of warm clothing.

The Ultimate Endurance Test
The Epic Story of Shackleton's Journey to the South Pole Comes to Channel 4

From The Independent, 29 December 2001
By James Rampton

When he accepted the job as the new chief executive of Channel 4 earlier this month, Mark Thompson said he wanted the channel to undertake more "big projects" like Shackleton. They really don't come much bigger than Charles Sturridge's two-part, four-hour serial, which is the centrepiece of Channel 4's New Year schedule. It's the sort of drama for which the term "epic" was invented.

Sturridge, the writer-director previously responsible for Brideshead Revisited, Gulliver's Travels and Longitude, was told that filming Shackleton's monumental two-year expedition in actual arctic conditions would be impossible - but that only made him more determined to try.

He was adamant that he would do everything he could to do justice to the explorer's extraordinary 1914 mission to become the first man to cross the South Pole. In the event, Shackleton and his 27-strong crew were forced to abandon their ship, The Endurance, in the Antarctic ice-floes and drag three heavy lifeboats across frozen plains for six months. The ordeal then became even more horrendous when Shackleton had to tackle 100-foot-high waves as he and five colleagues traversed 800 miles of the stormy South Atlantic in a small open boat to find a ship, in an attempt to rescue the remaining crew-members. The whole expedition lasted a gruelling two years. If you didn't know it was a true story, you'd laugh at the sheer implausibility of it all.

The pounds 7m drama, in which Kenneth Branagh (above) gives a dynamic performance in the title role, was conceived on a similarly grand scale. Sturridge hired a Norwegian ice-breaker to act as his unit base, off the coast of Greenland. But like Shackleton's vessel, it became stuck fast in the pack-ice. Consequently, the director embarked on the five- week shoot in some of the most treacherous weather conditions on earth.

It would be quite possible to produce almost as riveting a programme about the making of Shackleton. Although they had modern technology and more effective weather-proof clothing, the film crew got a taste of the hardship that Shackleton and his team had endured some hundred years earlier. The cast all wore survival suits under their costumes - wisely, since anyone who fell through a crack in the ever-shifting ice-floes would have had just 90 seconds before the freezing water stopped their heart. On one occasion, a local made Sturridge carry a shot-gun to ward off any marauding polar bears.

All in all, it proved a rather more challenging shoot than, say, a month working on the set of EastEnders - but the end result is a stirring tribute to the limits of human endurance.

Critics are forever complaining that TV drama is utterly formulaic and unimaginative. They charge commissioning editors with having no ideas beyond parachuting former soap stars into the latest by-the-yard cops or docs show. Drama today, they say, lacks ambition. That is not an accusation that you could ever level at Shackleton.

'Shackleton' is on Wednesday and Thursday at 9pm on Channel 4

Ice Warrior
Kenneth Branagh Risked Life and Limb in the Cold to Recreat a Famous Antarctic Expedition

What's On TV, 22 December 2001-4 January 2002
by Lucy Banwell
(Thanks, Catherine)

Kenneth Branagh's first question when he was asked to play explorer Ernest Shackleton in this week's Channel 4 dramatisation was: "Are we going to film on ice?"

"A friend of mine had been talking about this story for years and that the physical effect of the environment couldn't be conveyed unless you're there," explained Kenneth, 41.

So he went to Greenland for five weeks to film the story of Shackleton's 1914 expedition to cross Antarctica. Along with 93 other cast and crew, Kenneth faced cramped conditions, freezing temperatures and the danger of ice floes breaking up under his feet.

Falling into the freezing sea would have meant certain death within two minutes, but - strangely enough - it was more trivial matters which occupied the crew's minds.

"There was constant concern about how you kept your feet dry," says the actor best known for his film adaptations of Shakespeare plays 'Henry V' (1989) and 'Much Ado About Nothing' (1993).

"And the weather made you hungry and cranky. There was a near riot one day over some chocolate bars. "It was potty, but many of the diaries of the real Shackleton expedition members contain snippets of obsession with that kind of detail and, to some extent, we got a sense of what that might be like."

Despite the odd disagreement, there's no doubt that their icy experience brought the cast and crew closer together, and in Kenneth's case the "intense emotional bonding" resulted in his latest relationship - with art director Lindsay Brunnock.

But while Kenneth suffered heroically for his art, the actor admits he was outdone by a certain performer who felt very at home with their location. "We had a penguin in one of the scenes that came out of a cabinet at exactly the right moment and walked down a dinner table. It completely stole the scene."

Branagh Tells of Icy Adventures
From MSN (Australia), 6 December 2001
*Thanks, Paula B.

Actor Kenneth Branagh spoke of his deep admiration for the legendary explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton as he recalled the life threatening dangers he faced while filming a drama about his adventures.

Branagh and the rest of the crew working on the Channel 4 drama, entitled Shackleton, spent weeks in the frozen wastes of Greenland and Iceland recreating the events of the 1914 expedition. Like the original members of the ill-fated trip they faced many of the hardships and dangers caused by the savage environment.

Branagh said it had been a been a humbling experience to be filming in such conditions and to realise what Shackleton and his crew had gone through.

He said: "Shackleton was a great guy ... we were all living in cramped quarters on a relatively small ship, and trying to work in this ever-changing environment. "When it was windy it was a nightmare, when you were wet it was a nightmare. And even after you had just seen the most amazing biblical sky, you knew you were still in this incredibly threatening, unearthly place in which you were never likely to find yourself as a tourist."

Shackleton's director, the award winning Charles Sturridge, said there were times when all the crew faced mortal danger from the unpredictable landscape. "When you are filming you are normally in a different environment to the one you are trying to recreate, but what was remarkable about making this was that we were working on the same surface as Shackleton. "We were filming in sea ice which is one of the most extraordinary and terrifying surfaces to work on. "I don't think it is possible to understand the terror of living in a surface that is disintegrating beneath you until you have actually done it. "You have no idea how frightening it is to be standing in the middle of this floating jigsaw, with two miles of freezing sea beneath you."

Branagh Toughs It Out in Antarctica
Yahoo News, 5 December 2001
By Jonathan Donald
*Thanks, Ngoc

Kenneth Branagh found filming new C4 drama Shackleton one of the most gruelling jobs of his career.

Branagh, 40, plays explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who miraculously returned with his crew from a failed mission to the South Pole in 1914. The actor said: "It was certainly one of the toughest projects I've ever been part of. I don't know anyone who didn't experience tremendous highs and lows. Over the course of a day, we went through so many emotions." The drama proved to be a tough undertaking for the actor. Almost five weeks of the 14-week shoot were spent cooped up on a ship off the Greenland coast.

Branagh said: "We were all living in cramped quarters on a relatively small ship, and trying to work in this ever-changing environment. "When it was windy and wet, it was a nightmare, and you were in this incredibly threatening place."

Branagh took on playing Sir Ernest Shackleton after becoming obsessed by polar explorers. "I've long been fascinated by why these people do it," said the actor, who researched the role by sifting through archives, meeting relatives and interviewing living explorers. "It's an extraordinary state of mind that is also very recognisable. But quite frankly, I wouldn't have the balls to do it myself."

Shackleton is the centrepiece of C4's line-up over the New Year. A budget estimated at around 7m was lavished on the two-parter to air on January 1 and 2. It tells the story of Shackleton's failed bid to cross the South Pole. He and his crew were forced to abandon their ship, Endurance, after it became trapped in the ice floes. Two years later, he miraculously made it to human outpost, South Georgia.

Branagh 'Terrified' During Filming of Polar Expedition
Ananova, 5 December 2001
*Thanks, Kelly

Kenneth Branagh says he was "terrified and exhilarated" playing Sir Ernest Shackleton in a new TV mini-series. Branagh spent five freezing weeks in east Greenland re-enacting Shackleton's attempt to cross the South Pole in 1914. The two-part drama is being shown in the New Year.

Branagh, who recently won an Emmy award, told Ananova: "It was one of the toughest but most enjoyable projects I have ever been involved in. "At times the ice disintegrated under our feet and you knew that if you did slip into the water you could only survive for about two minutes. "The silence around you was completely eerie apart from the sound of ice breaking up. But you do develop the most marvellous camaraderie.

"I suppose Shackleton was a bit of an outsider like me so we had that in common. I loved his adventurous, daring spirit. He never wanted to give up."

Branagh, who is now working on the next Harry Potter movie, is already being tipped for a Bafta award for his portrayal of Sir Ernest.

Charles Sturridge wrote and directed the mini-series, which also stars Lorcan Cranitch, Mark McGann and Kevin McNally. Phoebe Nicholls plays Shackleton's wife and American actress Embeth Davidtz plays his mistress.

Shackleton amazingly survived his 1914 mission and saved his 27 men. But he had a heart attack and died on an expedition in 1922.

Kenneth Branagh Visits the College
Dulwich College News

Actor and director Kenneth Branagh visited the College on January 17 in preparation for his part as Sir Ernest Shackleton in a forthcoming Channel 4 film on the Antarctic explorer (and Old Alleynian). He looked around the exhibition Shackleton: The Antarctic and Endurance, and is seen here aboard the James Caird, in which Shackleton and five companions made their epic 800-mile journey to South Georgia in the winter of 1916.

Branagh was accompanied on his visit by Charles Sturridge, director of Brideshead Revisited and, more recently, Longitude, who will be directing the Shackleton film. They are pictured below with College Archivist Dr. Jan Piggott, curator of the highly successful Shackleton exhibition. The exhibition runs until February 25th, and is open every day except Mondays from 10 am to 6 pm.

The Daily Express, Saturday, 13 January 2001

From Peter Sheridan in Los Angeles:

Kenneth Branagh is to brave the freezing Arctic wastes to star as one of Britain's most heroic polar adventurers in the most expensive TV mini-series ever made.

On one of the most inhospitable film sets ever used, Branagh, 40, will portray Sir Ernest Shackleton in a 27 million drama of exploration and survival.

Though Shackleton was a hero of the Antarctic, the four-hour series will be filmed in the nearer-to-Britain Arctic, where Branagh and a rugged cast will endure months on an ice shelf.

Once filming starts, there will be no escape from the ice until the series is completed. Shackleton mounted a famously ill-fated expedition to transverse the Antarctic continent and the South Pole, sailing in 1914 shortly before the start of the First World War.

His ship, the Endurance became trapped in the ice before they reached their goal. The vessel was crushed in the ice, thus marooning shackleton and his 27 crewmen with no hope of rescue at the bottom of the world.

With superhuman leadership, Shackleton took his team across some of the world's most unforgiving terrain. Leaving most of his crew in a makeshift encampment on the Antarctic's Elephant Island - 22 men living beneath two overturned boats for more than four months - Shackleton sailed with the remaining five in a small boat across terrifying waters to the distant island of South Georgia. Once there, they trekked through mountains and across glaciers to find rescue at a whaling station. All 28 of the explorers survived the ordeal, which lasted more than 18 months.

Now Branagh and his co-stars will plunge into the heart of the Arctic ice to relive the heroism.

"I find myself waking up in the middle of the night, wondering what we have got ourselves into," said director Charles Sturridge. "We needed to be on an ice shelf, so we will live on a 7,500-ton Soviet icebreaking vessel that will cut through the ice in the frozen waters off Greenland."

There will be no hotels, superstar entourages or personal trailers with gyms for the stars. "The ship will be smashing through the ice, stopping so the actors can get off and do that day's scenes," said Sturridge. "We're getting people who can survive going into ice, work in unpredictable conditions and co-exist in proximity, as there are no trailers. There's no backing out once we're there."

Shackleton's expedtion has received a flurry of fresh appreciation in recent years, with the publication of several best-selling books on his ordeal, the showing of dramatic photographs and a growing screen interest in real-life adventure tales, such as Into Thin Air and The Perfect Storm.

A cinema version of Shackleton's drama is being planned and is expected to star Mel Gibson and be directed by Wolfgang Petersen, who masterminded The Perfect Storm.

"It is a great story of human endurance, although making it is incomprehensible and a logistical challenge of epic proportions," said Branagh. "Shackleton has had a renaissance, to the point where corporate leadership programmes embrace the techniques he used to keep people alive who had no business thinking that they would ever survive.

"The irony is that Shackleton got these people to form a unique bond to stay alive as two million of their fellow countrymen were being killed in the fields of France and Belgium in the First World War."

Filming of the Channel 4 mini-series, based on diaries kept by Shackleton and his crew, is expected to start later this year.

Variety, 11 January 2001

Branagh to star in 'Shackleton' mini


NEW YORK -- In what marks its most ambitious and pricey miniseries ever, A&E is partnering with Channel Four Intl. on "Shackleton," a four-hour miniseries that will star Kenneth Branagh as the famed Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Charles Sturridge, best known for such logistically challenged minis as "Longitude" and "Gulliver's Travels,"wrote the script and will direct the mini which is budgeted as high as $40 million.

A&E senior vice president of programming Allen Sabinson wouldn't confirm the budget, saying only that it would be less. Shackleton, who had planned an expedition to the South Pole, and his crew got stuck when their ship was crushed by ice, not far from their goal. Through shrewd management and a herculean trek through mountains, glaciers and brutal waters, Shackleton got his crew rescued from their frozen confines, with all 27 surviving the year and one half ordeal. Sturridge wrote his script from the diaries Shackleton insisted each crew member keep during the ordeal.

Shackleton's expedition -- which started near the onset of World War I -- has drawn considerable interest as Hollywood continues to mine man vs. nature tales. "Perfect Storm" director Wolfgang Petersen has been working on a bigscreen version, "Endurance," a National Geographic Films-produced epic that he hoped would star Mel Gibson. Petersen's still working on the script with Dan Gilroy for a shoot more complicated than "Perfect Storm."

Sturridge said the shoot he and Branagh arecontemplating will be absolutely brutal for cast and crew. "I do find myself waking up in the middle of the night, wondering what we have gotten ourselves into," Sturridge said. "We needed to be on an ice shelf, so we'll live on a 7,500-ton Soviet icebreaking vessel that'll cut through the ice in the frozen waters off Greenland.

"Essentially, the ship will be smashing through the ice, stopping so that the actors can get off and do that day's scenes. We're getting people who can survive going into the ice, can work in unpredictable conditions and can coexist in close proximity of that ship, because there are no trailers. And there's no backing out once we're there."

Another help was getting Branagh, who felt it was a role an actor could sink his chattering teeth into. "What happened to Shackleton and the expedition is a great story of human endurance, even though making it is incomprehensible and a logistical challenge of epic proportions," Branagh said. "Shackleton has had a renaissance, to the point where corporate leadership programs embrace the techniques he used to keep alive people who had no business thinking they'd ever survive.

"And though they never got there, there was an irony in that Shackleton got these people to form a unique bond in the human spirit to stay alive, at the same time 2 million of their fellow countrymen were hacked down in the fields of France."

Hearst-owned A&E has been elevating the level of its programming with such fare as the Alfonso Cuaron-directed remake of the Orson Welles pic "The Magnificent Ambersons" and "100 Center Street," which Sidney Lumet created, directing six of the first 13 episodes. Sabinson said the series cost one-third the usual Gotham-based drama because they're using 24-frame HDTV video.

Branagh of the Antarctic Plans to Retrace Explorer's Journey
The Independent 21 November 2000

Kenneth Branagh is to submit himself to one of the world's most arduous journeys: a trek to the Antarctic, in the name of method acting.

By retracing some of the steps taken by the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, the acclaimed Shakespearean actor and director hopes to experience some of the hardships so that he can better portray the explorer's life on film.

Although Branagh is unlikely to confine himself to a 10-month diet of polar expedition dogs, seals and penguins or drift on ice floes for five months, as Shackleton's men did during their heroic failure to reach the South Pole aboard Endurance in 1914, the actor conceded that he will need to be "as fit as a butcher's dog and put in an order for some thermals" before spending six weeks in Antarctica.

Shackleton tried - and failed - four times to reach the South Pole but his fame was assured after Endurance was trapped and slowly crushed in pack ice 1,200 miles from land. After five months camping on ice floes, Shackleton's men then travelled 800 miles to safety in an open lifeboat.

Branagh's portrayal of Shackleton will be seen in a four-hour Channel 4 film to be directed by Charles Sturridge, who won international praise for his Granada adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

Branagh said yesterday the task would be "a real challenge for all concerned". If the audience was to "get a feel" of what Shackleton and his crew went through, "then we have at least got to give them some idea of the real environment of the place", he said. Branagh's pursuit of authenticity has already led him to wear a hump hroughout a radio recording of Richard III. The actor has more in common with Shackleton than many may think - including an Irish birthright and cinemagraphic interests.

Shackleton, widely considered to have been more of a canny fortune-hunter than an explorer, pursued the commercial potential of his 1914 expedition long before he left England, by registering the Imperial Trans Antarctic Film Syndicate to milk the film rights and hiring the Australian Frank Hurley as official cameraman and photographer to the project. His near-death experiences did not quell his commercial endeavour. The footage of icebergs and suffocating snowstorms, accompanied only by subtitles and a piano score, was eerily natural but deemed uncommercial because it lacked scenes of animal life. Hurley was ordered to add birds, penguins and seals and the subsequent film, South, since preserved by the National Film and Television Archive, is teeming with them.

America has recently been in the grip of what has been called Shackmania: Caroline Alexander's account of the doomed exploration has sold 200,000 copies and, for all the explorer's failures, Harvard fetes his man-management techniques at its Shackleton School. The enterprising Branagh may need quick delivery of his thermals, before Shackleton's appeal wears off.


Robert De Niro put on 50lb for his Oscar-winning performance as the boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. In Taxi Driver, he took pep pills to help him portray the paranoid psychopath Travis Bickel. In Rainmaker, John Grisham's tale of two lawyers, Claire Danes got the film crew to encircle and hurl abuse at her in preparation for a scene in which she recovers after being verbally abused. Dustin Hoffman, for Marathon Man, often went without food or sleep and smoked to give the sense of post-Holocaust existence. The torture scenes were prepared for with trips to dentists. To play a cold killer in Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen indulged heavily in drugs that Vietnam soldiers took. He suffered so much that he actually incurred a mild heart attack while shooting.

Branagh in Pole Position to Play Antarctic Explorer Shackleton
The Scotsman, 20 November 2000

The acclaimed Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh is set to visit the Edinburgh home of Sir Ernest Shackleton as he prepares to recreate the Antarctic explorer's life story on film.

Details of Branagh's plan to visit the city emerged as a group of modern adventurers, led by Scot Jock Wishart, set off to follow in Shackleton's footsteps. Branagh is due to make a similar trip to the Antarctic to prepare for his role. "I am going to have to be as fit as a butcher's dog and put in an order for some thermals," said Branagh. "The film is going to be a real challenge for all concerned. If the audience is to get a feel of what Shackleton and his crew went through, then we have at least got to give them some idea of the real environment of the place. That means filming in the area where their adventures took place." And, revealing he felt a certain kinship with Shackleton, Branagh added: "His story is one of unbelievable heroics in the face of impossible adversity. I would like to think that perhaps a certain adventurousness of spirit is something I can share with him."

In an attempt to understand the man as well as his adventures, Branagh will visit the Edinburgh home of Shackleton, which is now part of a Georgian hotel in the city's South Learmouth Gardens. Shackleton lived there with his wife, Emily, between 1906 and 1910, when he was secretary of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. In 1990, the property was re-opened as Channings, an Edwardian town house hotel, which merged the homes of 12 to 16 Learmouth Gardens. Shackleton's home is now part of the private library and drawing room.

Peter Taylor, founder and managing director of Town House Hotels, said: "When I first discovered that Shackleton had lived in the Channings building as a private resident, I was amazed and delighted. "Having researched a little more into his life, I have discovered his remarkable bravery and I think he is one of the most heroic explorers in history. "I would like his memory to live on in Channings and I am very interested to hear from anyone who may have family memorabilia which they would like to have placed on display at the hotel."

Mr Taylor wrote to Branagh, inviting him to stay at the hotel to familiarise himself with Shackleton. Branagh replied by letter, stating he was "fascinated to hear of the connection with Shackleton" and intended to stay at the hotel on his next visit to Edinburgh.

Born in 1874, Shackleton was a renowned Antarctic explorer, making several expeditions to the region. In 1914, he attempted to be the first to cross the Southern Ocean but 17-and-a-half months into the expedition, his ship, Endurance, became trapped in pack ice 1,200 miles from land. As the vessel was slowly crushed by ice, Shackleton's crew abandoned the ship and camped on the iceflows. They survived for the ten months on a diet of the expedition dogs, seals and penguins. As the ice thawed, the explorers drifted on ice floes for another five months, until they finally escaped in lifeboats to Elephant Island. Shackleton and five others then travelled another 800 miles in an open 22ft lifeboat, the James Caird, to seek help. He led four relief expeditions before succeeding in rescuing his 28 men and was hailed a national hero.

Meanwhile, Wishart's three-man crew, who will leave Britain today will document their expedition on film. The explorers are wearing replicas of the clothes that Shackleton wore.

Branagh Braves the Pole for Shackleton Epic, Sunday Telegraph interview article with Branagh.

Update: TV Times magazine clipping (19 August 2000)

Kenneth Branagh could soon be slipping on his snow shoes. He's top of C4's wishlist to play Arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton in a four hour film about his extraordinary trip to the South Pole in 1914. Although Ken's people are adamant that no deal has been finalised, they do accept that the involvement of award winning 'Longitude' director Charles Sturridge is a big lure.

It was Charles who brought 'Longitude' to C4 as part of a contract, with his production company, that also includes a film about the poet Lord Byron. 'Ken is very interested in working with Charles,' says a spokeswoman at his Shepperton Studios office. 'But there's no script, budget or even a time set for filming! Any decision will have to wait until next year.'

PA News - Branagh in Talks to Star as Antarctic Explorer
by Anthony Barnes  (7 July 2000)

Actor Kenneth Branagh is in talks to play Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton in a multi-million pound dramatisation of his polar expedition, it was announced today. Director Charles Sturridge is keen to land the Shakespearean star for the extraordinary tale of survival which will be made for Channel 4 and begins shooting next summer.

Shackleton and his crew survived for two years in the treacherous region after their boat the Endurance became trapped in ice floes and was later crushed.

Sturridge, who made the award-winning adaptation of bestseller Longitude, said: "This is a film about a man, his men and an incredible journey.

Against seemingly hopeless odds Shakleton managed to keep his 28-man crew alive for two terrifying years, at the same time as millions of men were being sacrificed in the defense of civilisation on the battlefields of France."

Sturridge has signed a three-year deal with Channel 4 to create further films and is currently writing the script for his four-hour Shackleton film, which will be shown in two parts.

Shackleton set off from Britain on the eve of the First World War in 1914 aiming to lead the first expedition to cross the South Pole. But by January 1915 their ship Endurance had become locked in the ice floes and 10 months later they abandoned ship when it was crushed by ice. Then Shackleton and his team dragged lifeboats across the frozen water until they reached the edge of the ocean then rowed 100 miles to Elephant Island. But after a long wait they realised there was no chance of being picked up there so Shackleton and five others made a further 650-mile journey tossed by 100ft waves. They eventually reached South Georgia and acquired a larger boat to return to rescue the rest of the crew.

Channel 4 Director of Programmes, Tim Gardam said: "I'm thrilled Charles Sturridge has come up with such a great project for us and I expect Shackleton to be one of our most ambitious dramas."