Darling, They're Wonderful: Lay Off Ken and Em

The Guardian (London), September 18 1995
by Derek Malcolm

Kenneth Branagh recently said: "The English critics pull my films apart. I don't know if it's me they don't like or my films. There are some very personal attacks. They have accused me of being the worst actor in the world, and of being a megalomaniac. My wife Emma Thompson and I get on the critics' nerves.Even though that causes us deep hurt at times, nothing will stop us from continuing. I never expect anything positive from the whole English press, so I'm never disappointed."

Branagh may have been put in a better mood by the success of his new film In The Bleak Midwinter at the Venice Festival. It won an award for teamwork from the international jury and received nice reviews from most of the international press. He was also welcomed with a stream of interviews and banks of paparazzi. One critic commented on his courtesy and pleasantness - a compliment that could equally be levelled at Emma Thompson. She's refreshingly open with the press. I'll never forget her comment on television just before her Oscar triumph when asked whether, despite being often parted from her husband, she wanted to start a family. "A family?", she said, "Sex would be a fine thing."

I happen to like both of them. After a Guardian Talk with Ken I travelled back with him from Birmingham. On the train he actually asked me what it was like to be a critic and how they operated. You may think that unexceptional, but there are very few stars willing to talk about anyone but themselves.

As for Emma, I was much impressed by the way she did her best to satisfy everybody who wanted to talk to her or photograph her at the Guardian's reception for Much Ado About Nothing at Cannes. This was in marked contrast to Keanu Reeves, who seemed to be in a sulk throughout.

Ken and Emma are good not just as actors but as writers (Ken wrote In the Bleak Midwinter as well as directing, and Emma, Sense And Sensibility as well as acting in it). It is probably the fact that they received so much publicity early on in their joint careers that has now led to the backlash.

Perhaps it was Branagh's too early biography, which he did to make a bit of money when his Renaissance Company was soaking it up, that put the press against him. And maybe it's Emma's jolly hockey sticks approach which irritates those used to serious Hollywood platitudes.

Both have been extremely loyal to Britain, despite their success in America. Both are excellent ambassadors. And if Branagh is a megalomaniac, I haven't found anyone connected with his films who thinks so.

But he has possibly done too much too soon, directing and acting in the films he has made, producing as well and generally holding everything together. Perhaps he has had to, and I think it has affected both the development of his acting and the incipient improvement in his direction. He should not be trying to become a jack of all trades but master of none. This is a definite danger for him.

Emma, on the other hand, has developed her acting to the point at which she very seldom gives a bad performance. Even when slightly miscast, as she may be in the forthcoming Carrington, she carries it off. Her portrayal of Dora Carrington may not quite ring true, but it's a very good performance all the same. And she was superb in both Howards End and The Remains Of The Day. We'll have to wait for Sense And Sensibility to see whether she can write as well as act.

Mr and Mrs Branagh are a fine advertisement for British film-making and do not deserve the personal attacks made on them. Branagh is not the young Olivier and Thompson is not Peggy Ashcroft. But they have, on the whole done pretty well, pretty soon and, in so doing, maintained their dignity and equilibrium far better than many others would have. Talk to someone like Spike Lee and Kevin Costner and see the difference.

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