Spotlight on Kenneth Branagh: best movies directed by the British kingpin


Having escaped Northern Ireland during the Troubles as a child, Kenneth Branagh’s success represents the triumph of working class talent—though he had to acquire a Received Pronunciation accent along the way to achieve it. You could argue that in his personal life he’s the embodiment of Alan Rickman’s despised character in Love Actually, having broken Emma Thompson’s heart. But for better or worse, Kenneth Branagh is a kingpin of British cinema.

After appearing in Harry Potter like most British acting aristocracy and consistently partaking in Shakespeare adaptations, Branagh is known for being front and centre in the UK’s best-known stories. His latest take on the English canon is Death on the Nile, directing and reprising his role as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot from his first outing in Murder on the Orient Express.

It is safe to say Branagh hits as much as he misses, with the less said about box office misfire Artemis Fowl the better. But what are his top 5 directorial ventures you should seek out?

Cinderella (2015)

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Kenneth Branagh made the charm of Disney’s live-action remakes look too easy with Cinderella and the studio has been aiming (and failing) for this peak ever since. Alongside costuming extraordinaire Sandy Powell and frequent collaborator composer Patrick Doyle, Branagh succeeded in creating a vibrant, magical fairytale, the story striking a perfect balance between modernity and tradition. Not just a beauty engineered for love-at-first-sight, Lily James fleshed out Cinderella as an empathetic, loving character who deserves pretty things and a happy ending—balanced by the antagonism of the ever-brilliant Cate Blanchett.

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

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Branagh starred in and directed this masterpiece, which is perhaps his finest work—but less of a challenge than Cinderella. From my experience, Shakespeare laid out the story too perfectly for anyone to go too far wrong with this, so Branagh had an open goal adapting it. Nonetheless, the Hollywood casting of Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves makes the otherwise fairly traditional setting of the play quite sexy, and Emma Thompson brings her all to the passion to Beatrice, in a warm, loveable and fiery film.

3. Henry V (1989)

Just a bunch of bros waking up one morning and deciding to invade France, and why not? If Much Ado is the sun, then Henry V is the moon. With Derek Jacobi’s fervid narration in between acts, Branagh’s debut direction has gravitas and melodrama. Though his other ventures in both directing and starring vary in quality, here he is a worthy leader on and off-screen. The betrayal, the romance, the battle: Branagh shifts gears effortlessly. He gives every rousing speech his all, in the process uplifting his companions and co-stars.

4. Belfast (2021)

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There’s something to be said about Branagh’s endeavour to depict his Troubled childhood. Belfast feels like a bank advert about family, engineered to make you emotional—but it’s an enjoyable greyscale drama to be swept away by nonetheless. Catriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench: they all make such beautiful couples. The colouring makes the whites of their eyes intense and their tears fall with such grace. The film (nominated for seven Academy Awards) may be superficial, but who can refuse the adorable wide-eyes and easy grin of Jude Hill?

5. Dead Again (1992)

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If the collaborations between Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh have tickled your fancy, may I offer you this bizarre neo-noir romance? Thompson plays an amnesiac, troubled by nightmares of a doomed past life and Branagh plays Mike Church, a private detective enlisted to help her unravel the mystery of her memories. Written by Scott Frank, now better known for his work on The Queen’s Gambit, this is a wild little feature with eccentric characters, such as a psychiatrist-turned-butcher (Robin Williams) and a hypnotist/antiques dealer (Derek Jacobi). It’s an American thriller that’ll keep you on your toes, and a fun change from the other period pieces on this list.