First Look at Kenneth Branagh’s New Agatha Christie Film
The actor tells Surrey Life about upcoming 'Death on the Nile' and shares what he loves most about living in the county, 1 September 2020
By Bernard Bale
Thanks, Jude

This October Sir Kenneth Branagh returns as the mysterious detective, Hercules Poirot, in 'Death on the Nile', the follow up to the 2017 blockbuster adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 'Murder on the Orient Express', in which he also starred and directed.

But away from the sun, sand and heat of Egypt, Sir Kenneth likes to spend his downtime in the countryside right here is Surrey, where he has a home near Chobham.

“It is a perfect county for someone in my profession,” he says. “It is close to London, close to the major film studios but has such a beautiful countryside that you really can get away from it all and pretend you are miles from anywhere.

“There are some country pubs and restaurants, as good as any you might find in London and I have friends nearby too so when I come home to be away from my work, I cannot think of a better place.”

Living in Surrey is a far cry from the Northern Irish city where Kenneth was born (on December 10, 1960) and grew up with this plumber/carpenter father, William, mother, Frances, brother, William Jnr, and sister, Joyce.

“Growing up in Belfast there was, believe it or not a great sense of family and community,” he remembers. “I actually felt secure there. Life was built around visiting people you knew. I remember years of coming home from school and going to my Auntie Irene’s, who lived two doors down, before my mother came home from work. My granny gave me my lunch from school every single day when I was at the Grove Primary School.”

It hadn’t been the plan for his family to move to England but an opportunity arose as The Troubles began to make life increasingly more unsettled.

“My mother never wanted to move. None of us wanted to. But the offer of a house came at about the time when we had this experience of rioting in the street,” Sir Kenneth explains. “It was scary because, overnight, a peaceful, mixed Protestant-Catholic street turned into this very dramatic-looking landscape where all the paving stones had been pulled up by the residents to put a barricade in at either end.

“Suddenly, we were in a street where the fellow who was the postman was now also a vigilante at night. There were men with makeshift truncheons from the shipyard parading after dark and armoured cars. I remember that being a really dramatic transformation of what previously had been a place where one felt very, very, very secure.”

The Branagh family moved to Reading and that, for Kenneth, presented its own problems because he had a thick Ulster accent and since the Northern Ireland Conflict was never out of the news, he was on the receiving end of some bullying.

“I worked hard to change my accent and that led to me getting my first acting role,” he says. “My parents did not encourage anything other than a normal job although at family gatherings they were the life and soul of the party themselves, singing and telling jokes. They were not very happy when I started to act but later they were very supportive and I was pleased that they lived long enough to join in my success.”

And indeed, on stage and both big and small screens he has had success after success. In 2012 he was honoured for his services to drama and the community of Northern Ireland with a Knighthood and three years later became president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he trained. But he still remembers how it all started.

“One of my first jobs was as an extra in Chariots of Fire,” he says. “I am not mentioned in the credits of course and if you blink you will miss me but it was a start and I have grown to love acting and directing. I don’t believe all the publicity that surrounds being an actor, after all, you only hear either the successes you have had or the things you are supposed to have done wrong. You never hear about the great jobs you were turned down for, the films that got away.”

While synonymous with Shakespeare, Kenneth admits that he likes to vary his work as much as possible.

“I don’t mind being associated with Shakespeare one little bit – I am flattered,” he says. “It is when people start talking about you in hallowed terms as the new Lord Olivier or something like that. I have never once gone into a restaurant and said, ‘Of course you have a table free, I’m the new Lord Olivier’. All that is just talk. It is delivery that matters and I do try to deliver.

“The new 'Death On The Nile' is not exactly Shakespeare but hopefully people find it enjoyable.

Kenneth remained living in Berkshire for many years but is now a member of the growing group of stalwart actors who call Surrey home, including Dame Judi Dench and Brian Blessed.

“Brian Blessed is a good pal and it is always a joy to spend time with him – especially since he also lives here and almost walking distance.

“This is a wonderful part of the world whether in Surrey or Berkshire. I spend time both at work and play in both counties but the more time I spend in Surrey the more I have come to appreciate it,” he says. “When you stand in your garden and look around you it is just a delight to breath in the air. People always say that the grass is greener somewhere else but in my opinion it cannot possibly be greener than it is in Surrey.”

Death on the Nile is due to release in cinemas on October 23.

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