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London (AFP) – With his distinguished accent and his multiple adaptations of Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh appears to many as a typical Englishman. It took him “Belfast”, a film tribute to his hometown that he fled as a child, to remind the world that he was Northern Irish, winning an Oscar in the process.
The 61-year-old actor-director failed to win the Oscar for best director on Sunday, but he managed to win the best original screenplay, the first of his rich career, for his film “Belfast” telling the story of the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s through the eyes of Buddy, a nine-year-old boy.
It was at this age that Kenneth Branagh, born on December 10, 1960 into a Protestant family in Belfast, moved to England to escape the “Troubles” that tore Northern Ireland apart for three decades. His family then moved to Reading, west of London.
In November, when the film was released, Branagh explained that the idea had come to him “from this silence that many of us have experienced” with the confinements linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the British director especially drew on his experience of “another confinement”, that of a Protestant child who grew up in Belfast with Catholic neighbors and “the street barricaded on both sides”.
“Belfast” thus opens with a scene of street violence during the summer of 1969, when Protestant militants attacked Catholic families to chase them from the streets where the two communities had lived together for so long.
This Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay “is a great honor to a great city and fantastic people”, he declared Sunday evening in Hollywood, statuette in hand for having written, he says, “a story about the search for joy, for hope in the face of violence, of loss”.
Even before the awards were handed out, Kenneth Branagh had already broken a record by becoming the first person to be nominated in seven different categories at the Oscars since the start of his career.
But with this film with the accents of a love letter to his hometown, Kenneth Branagh won at 61 an Oscar which, even if it may appear as a consolation prize, had eluded him for many years.
First nominated by the prestigious academy in 1990 for his film adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’, he was acclaimed as the ‘new Laurence Olivier’, an English actor-director who died last year having adapted the same piece in 1944.
In 1984, Kenneth Branagh, who had joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, had already been hailed at the theater for his role as Henry V in the eponymous play.
At 19, he had written to Laurence Olivier to ask him for advice before interpreting the role that the actor had played before him. “Try it and tell yourself that everything will be fine,” the master had replied to the disciple.
In 2012, the man who was then considered the best British actor of his generation was nominated for the Oscar for best supporting role, reincarnating his model Olivier in “My week with Marilyn”, by Simon Curtis.
He was also nominated for an Oscar in 1996 in the category of best adapted screenplay for “Hamlet”, a four-hour river film where he combined the caps of screenwriter, director and main actor.
He is also noticed on television. Producer of the series “Wallander”, in which he plays the role of a Swedish detective, Branagh received the Bafta (British film and television awards) for best series and best actor in 2009.
His private life has not escaped the spotlight. He was married from 1989 to 1995 to actress Emma Thompson, with whom he starred in several films. He has been remarried since 2003 to artistic director Lindsay Brunnock.
In 2012, he was knighted and given the title of “Sir Kenneth” by Queen Elizabeth II both for his role in the British cinema world and for that of the Northern Irish community.
He who had lost his Irish accent during childhood – because he “did not want to be noticed” in England – says he now realizes that theater and cinema are a way for him to reconnect with his roots.
During interviews to promote his latest film, he effortlessly resumed his Belfast accent, emphasizing that he felt Irish and not English.
© 2022 AFP
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Belfast kid Kenneth Branagh finally wins Oscars