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Branagh Honored by Shakespeare Guild

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For information about Shakespeare Guild membership,
and a copy of the limited edition videotape of highlights from the event, click here.

Excerpts from Kenneth Branagh's Golden Quill acceptance speech:

This extraordinary building   111k

Is that Pat Doyle laughing?   112k

What Dame Judi Dench said   220k

How Richard Briers describes acting   156k

Thanks to David Parfitt   164k

Rotweilers   260k

Gold of a different kind   380k

To the great mentors [Hugh Crutwell, Russel Jackson]   524k

The Green Room philosopher  656k

These wav files can be played with RealPlayer.

More and/or different excerpts will be added gradually--check back!

On January 16, 2000, Kenneth Branagh received the Gielgud Golden Quill from the Shakespeare Guild. The ceremony took place in Middle Temple Hall, a historic medieval building in London. The gala event benefitted the cultural initiatives of the Shakespeare Guild, a global tax-exempt organization that seeks to build stronger audiences for Shakespeare. Participants in the program included two previous Gielgud laureates, Dame Judi Dench (1999) and Sir Derek Jacobi (1997), and a number of other luminaries, among them Keith Baxter (who played Prince Hal in Orson Welles's "Chimes at Midnight," a film in which Sir John performed the role of King Henry IV), Richard Briers, and John Sessions. 'We recognize Kenneth Branagh as the versatile actor, director, and producer who is probably doing more than anyone else today to perpetuate the Gielgud legacy and convey to future audiences a continuing appreciation for Sir John's favorite playwright," announced the Shakespeare Guild.

In the afternoon, prior to the ceremony, ticketholders enjoyed screenings of Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost at the BAFTA auditorium on Piccadilly.

Click here for reviews of the film.

The Gielgud Award -- Photos

Find them at the Kenneth Branagh Compendium

The Gielgud Award -- Press

The London Times
17 January 20000
Much Ado for Hero of the Bard

Kenneth Branagh receiving the Golden Quill from Dame Judi Dench. Photograph: Roy Riley

DEREK JACOBI said that the man filled him with awe and admiration. Helena Bonham Carter called him "one of the more extraordinary people in this world". Ben Elton declared that Shakespeare owed him a debt.

Those were some of the less extravagant compliments ladled out in Middle Temple Hall last night. Who was the Renaissance man receiving this praise? Well, at least it was someone who founded a theatre company called Renaissance.

It was Kenneth Branagh, a famously nice man, a thoroughly decent actor, a gifted director of plays and films, an energetic producer, but not yet quite the blend of Galileo and John Cleese that nearly two hours of adulation seemed to suggest.

Branagh was receiving the John Gielgud Golden Quill Award, an enormous gilded pen sticking out of an enormous black blot, given by America's Shakespeare Guild to an outstanding interpreter of the Bard. Usually, the presentation is made on the other side of the pond, but this year transposed to Shakespeare's homeland. Branagh was the winner because his films of Henry V, Hamlet and Much Ado have, in the programme's words, "revived the sagging fortunes of a 435-year-old has-been and transformed him into today's hottest screenwriter".

Trumpets sounded. Elizabethan tunes were played. The American Ambassador declared that the Clintons would have liked to be there. And on came thespian after thespian who had worked with Branagh: Jacobi and Richard Briers, Dame Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins. What, one began to wonder, was Branagh thinking? Did he blush when Joan Collins told him via letter that he was "the butchest director I ever worked with". Or stop breathing to hear that Robin Williams wished him "a warm hand on your quill".

I suspect, or at least hope, that Branagh appreciated it when Briers, who played Lear for him, wryly complained of being turned from "a much-loved comedy actor" into "a highly respected classical actor" with two-thirds less income. Branagh received his vast quill from Dame Judi with becoming grace and modesty, recalling the words of an eminent teacher at RADA when confronted with his adolescent Hamlet: "No, no, no, no, no, no, you have got absolutely no sense of the man whatever - funny, though, funny."


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The Daily Telegraph
Shakespearians honour Branagh for film work
By Nigel Reynolds, Arts Correspondent

BRITAIN'S "new Shakespearians", keeping the playwright's flame burning 384 years after his death, met last night to see Kenneth Branagh honoured for his dedication to the Bard.

The actor-director was given the prestigious annual Gielgud Award by the Shakespeare Guild, an American foundation. The award, a silver (sic) quill, was presented to him by last year's recipient, Dame Judi Dench, who also won an Oscar last year for playing Queen Elizabeth I in the film Shakespeare in Love.

The foundation praised Branagh, 39, for introducing young people to Shakespeare. He has made three acclaimed screen versions of Shakespeare plays - Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet.

In March, he will release Love's Labour's Lost. In the high-octane production, set in the Thirties, Branagh juxtaposes Shakespeare with songs from American musicals and Busby Berkeley dance spectaculars. Branagh has also announced plans for films of Macbeth and As You Like It.

When he made Hamlet, in which he played the Prince, he insisted that not one word should be cut. The film was four hours long, though his studio also put out a shorter version to be shown on aircraft.

At last night's ceremony in London, actors and comics including Sir Derek Jacobi, a past winner of the same award, Stephen Fry, Bob Hoskins, Ben Elton and Geraldine McEwan, performed a Shakespeare revel with readings, music and sketches. Branagh's former lover, Helena Bonham Carter, from whom he split last year, also took part.

John Andrews, president of the Shakespeare Guild, said: "Through his remarkable films, Kenneth Branagh has introduced the works of Shakespeare to a new generation of audiences. In the process he has revived the sagging fortunes of a 435-year-old has-been and turned him into today's hottest screenwriter."

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Bard Lieutenant
Branagh honoured for his theatrical flourishes

Everyone's favourite luvvie, Kenneth Branagh, received the Gielgud Award at a ceremony in London on Sunday evening. The presentation, made by the US-based Shakespeare Guild, was in recognition of the 39-year-old's numerous theatrical achievements. A group of fellow actors, including Bob Hoskins, Richard Briers, Stephen Fry and Ben Elton, paid tribute to the writer/director/actor, with Elton thanking him for "simultaneously creating and destroying my acting career" by casting him in 'Much Ado About Nothing'.

Branagh has been credited with the renaissance of Shakespeare on film, although he downplays his involvement. "I don't think it had anything to do with me because he's been hip for 400 years," he said after the ceremony, "but with the wave of new Shakespeare films over the last ten years I think people have been discovering how much fun the stories can be and actors are loving playing the parts."

Branagh's next Shakespearean venture, a musical version of 'Love's Labour's Lost', opens in the UK on March 24.


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Sky News
January 17, 2000

Shakesperian luvvie Kenneth Branagh has become the youngest recipient of the prestigious Gielgud Award. The star was presented with the American award by last year's winner, Dame Judi Dench at a ceremony in London's historic Middle Temple Hall. The award, known as the Golden Quill, is awarded for enhancing Shakespeare's leagacy with Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi amog the past recipients.

Branagh said in a speech to a glittering collection of stars: "I've had a professional life of such supernatural good fortune but I'm delighted to be here and deeply honoured." An array of actors paid tribute to the 39-year-old actor-dircetor, including Geraldine McEwan, Bob Hoskins, Richard Briers, Ben Elton and Stephen Fry. Fry described the recipient as "a glass of Evian in a desert" and "the funniest man I know". And the American ambassador, Philip Lader, brought a message of greeting from the White House.

Other stars who sent messages included Robin Williams, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Joan Collins, John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Richard Attenborough, Billy Crystal and Martin Scorsese.

Sir John Gielgud also sent a message of congratulation, describing Branagh as a "prodigious talent".

Branagh's latest Shakespeare adaptation, Love's Labour's Lost, turns the play into a musical set in the 1930's and features Clueless star Alicia Silverstone.


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The Guardian
Method in his Movies

Kenneth Branagh is our greatest living Shakespearean - and that's official.
Michael Billington on why Branagh won the Golden Quill
19 January 2000

On Sunday Kenneth Branagh won the Golden Quill, established by the Washington-based Shakespeare Guild to honour the "greatest Shakespearean of our day". Clearly the guild's founder, John F. Andrews, has a wry sense of humour. After praising the 38-year-old Branagh for introducing Shakespeare to a new generation through his films, he goes on: "In the process Mr Branagh has revived the sagging fortunes of a 435-year-old has-been and turned him into today's hottest screenwriter."

It is significant that the award is American and is given to Branagh primarily for his movies. In blasť Britain, where Shakespeare is still theatrically available and where Branagh-bashing is a popular sport, we have no idea of the impact the Belfast boy's movies have made in the US. I was in Chicago when Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company was playing King Lear and Midsummer Night's Dream. The theatre was packed with young people, and at a panel on playing Shakespeare, in which Branagh took part, people talked about the Henry V movie with a glowing gratitude you wouldn't find in Britain. Americans, quite simply, have a hunger for Shakespeare which their theatre cannot begin to satisfy.

But Branagh doesn't merely have three Shakespeare movies made, with Love's Labour's Lost and Macbeth still to come. He has, in at least two of those cases, created a film that is comparable in linguistic richness and density of texture to a theatrical experience. Praising Branagh for making a movie that is like a play may seem a backhanded compliment, but in a medium where adapting Shakespeare usually involves textual dilution, Branagh has shown you can preserve the values of the original and still make exciting cinema.

Filming Shakespeare is always difficult. The Russian director Grigori Kozintsev once summed up the orthodox cinematic view: "The problem is not one of finding means to speak the verse in front of the camera... The aural has to be made visual. The poetic texture itself has to be transformed into a visual poetry, into the dynamic organisation of film imagery." This is easier if you're working in a language other than English; it's what Kozintsev himself did in Hamlet, Kurosawa in Throne of Blood - and Orson Welles in his sequence of Shakespeare movies, by treating the text as if it were in another tongue.

Branagh, however, has found a way of preserving the text and yet keeping the film visually alive. In Henry V, Derek Jacobi's Chorus, wandering through the battle-scenes like an ironic commentator, keeps the language constantly in front of us. Contrast the Olivier version, in which the Chorus is gradually reduced to an off-screen voice. Even more remarkable is the Branagh's Hamlet, where we get a powerful image of Elsinore as a vast hall of mirrors and a place of imprisoning confinement, and the full four-hour text, which reminds us that the prince is part of a larger pattern. Branagh has preserved the Shakespearean experience and yet produced popular cinema. What we forget, however, is that the Branagh movies, which triggered off a whole new cycle and made Shakespeare cinematically sexy, owe their existence to the Renaissance Theatre Company. Read Branagh's premature biography, Beginning, and you discover that, even as he was planning a Renaissance theatre season comprising Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It, he was insisting that filming on Henry V start the second it was finished. The momentum created by the theatre project carried through into the movie. It also helped that Branagh had already played Henry V for Adrian Noble at the RSC and understood the rhythm of the role.

In short, Shakespeare on screen often depends on a pre-existing theatrical culture: both Branagh and Olivier used their regular team of actors and even Baz Luhrmann's high-concept Romeo + Juliet was the product of a group who had grown up together at drama school in Sydney. As ever, cinema feeds off theatre. But if Branagh amply deserves his Golden Quill, it is not just for his remarkable chutzpah and energy. It is for showing that you can do Shakespeare on screen without sacrificing his density and richness and without relentlessly transforming the aural into the visual. Imaginatively handled, the aural becomes the visual.


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The Northern Echo
January 22, 2000

I ONCE interviewed Kenneth Branagh in bed. And before anyone gets completely the wrong idea let me explain that I was between the sheets in a London hotel room and he was in the back of a chauffeur-driven limousine on his way to some publicity junket in Leeds.

The subject of our chat was his Hollywood-made movie Dead Again, a Hitchcockian thriller which he directed and starred in with then-wife Emma Thompson.

Our busy schedules prevented a face-to-face interrogation session but nothing is beyond our Ken when it comes to promoting a project and a telephone talk was duly arranged.

That's typical of a man who may be famous for popularising Shakespeare on screen but remains someone who's as happy to natter about football as he is the intricacies of filming the Bard. He may have a reputation as a bit of a luvvie but he's a man of the people as his commercially-successful forays into Shakespearean territory on both stage and screen have proved.

That he should, this week, have received the Golden Quill from the Washington-based Shakespeare Guild as 'the greatest Shakespearean of our day' is no surprise. His films of Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet have done more to make those plays accessible to a modern, non-theatregoing audience than any boring old BBC version in their less-than-riveting series of televised Shakespeares.

He insisted on directing and starring in his films too which, to be honest, seemed to overstretch him at times but that was a small price to pay. Who else could have put Speed and The Matrix star Keanu Reeves in Shakespeare (as he did in Much Ado About Nothing) and get away with it? And the cast of his four-hour Hamlet was notable as the first - and almost certainly the last - time a movie cast list included Ken Dodd, Gerard Depardieu and Robin Williams.

Branagh's cinema success has also been greatly responsible for the current interest in putting the Bard on screen. Since a pre-Titantic Leonardo DiCaprio starred in an MTV-style Romeo And Juliet, we had a glut of relatively straight screen Shakespeare including Othello with Laurence Fishbourne and teen-slanted variations like Ten Things I Hate About Her (a cunning re-take on Taming Of The Shrew).

Clearly, where there's a Will, there's a way of turning it into something to appeal to today's youthful cinemagoers.

Now the Bard of Avon is calling on Branagh yet again but what he's done to Love's Labour's Lost is going to get a lot of purists hot under the collar. The loser, they will say, is Shakespeare himself. For Branagh has turned the romantic comedy into a musical - and not just any old musical. He has introduced songs by Cole Porter and George Gershwin into the plot. As the film lasts just over 90 minutes and there are half-a-dozen songs as well as Busby Berkeley dance numbers, the time allotted to the words of Will is not all that great. Branagh unveiled his new movie to the world at a special champagne-and-canapes screening last week. The result is great fun, very tuneful and vastly entertaining. You do come out humming the tunes not reciting the text but the novelty value alone is worth the price of admission.

Ken himself both stars and directs (surprise, surprise), and he's surrounded himself with such regular, reliable members of his unofficial repertory company as Richard Briers and Geraldine McEwan. But he's also been brave enough - and commercially canny enough - to cast Americans in some leading roles. Clueless star Alicia Silverstone saying Shakespeare sounds a recipe for disaster but as far as I'm concerned, it works.

Others in the audience expressed themselves less pleased with the result of Branagh's labours, but he's attracted criticism from the word go for daring to tamper with the classics. I'll bet when Love's Labour's Lost is released in the spring, audiences will revel in the glamorous costumes, wonderful songs, good performances and perhaps even the odd bit of Shakespearean verse.


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Shakespeare Guildlines
February 2000
Published by the Shakespeare Guild (John F. Andrews, President)

Kenneth Branagh Accepts the 2000 Gielgud Award in London

During a January 16th ceremony in a venue that Shakespeare and his fellow actors had hallowed in 1602 with the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night, the Guild saluted the poet a recent BBC survey has identified as The Man of the Millennium, and went on to laud the achievements of a versatile actor, director, producer, and script artist who has revived the sagging fortunes of a 435-year-old has-been and turned him into today's hottest screenwriter. In the words of Billy Crystal, this year's winner of the Gielgud Award "has been to Shakespeare what Viagra has been" to Kenneth Branagh's elders.

Crystal wasn't in Middle Temple Hall for the festivities, but he was one of many stars who sent messages for what the Evening Standard labeled a joyous "feelgood event." Other greetings came from notables like Richard Attenborough, Julie Christie, John Cleese, Joan Collins, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, and Robin Williams.

Woody Allen commended Branagh as one of his best pupils. Kevin Kline said that apart from himself, he couldn't think of anyone more worthy of The Golden Quill. Sir Ian McKellen expressed relief that a marvel whose accomplishments had been so awesome was finally approaching the age of 40. And Sir John Gielgud dubbed the 2000 laureate a "prodigious talent" and talked about how much he'd enjoyed appearing in several of his productions.

Following an Elizabethan prelude by Philip Pickett and the Musicians of the Globe, and an eloquent welcome from American Ambassador Philip Lader, the program opened with remarks by Sir Derek Jacobi, who'd garnered the Gielgud Award in 1997, and who spoke of how long he'd admired the protege who had given Sir Derek his first job as a director. Jacobi told Branagh he wished him Sir John's longevity - in part because "I may need the work." Next came comic writer Ben Elton, who insisted that Shakespeare owes a lot to Branagh for convincing millions of young people that the Bard isn't just "a boring old git."

Samantha Bond, who'd warmed our hearts as the title character in David Hare's Amy's View, presented the "Gallop apace" soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet. Then, after remarks from Bob Hoskins and Timothy Spall, the ever-popular Richard Briers said that before he'd met Kenneth Branagh he'd been a beloved comedy actor. His persuasive friend had transformed him into a highly regarded classical actor. "My income fell 65%," the wry Briers lamented with an endearing smile, but now at last "my family respects me."

After she'd praised Kenneth Branagh as one of the most extraordinary human beings she'd ever known, Helen Bonham Carter read letters from Brian Blessed and Ralph Fiennes. Then comedian John Sessions adopted the persona of Al Pacino to deliver a trouble Mafioso's "To be or not to be." Sean Rafferty, a BBC radio host, said how much the Belfast native's support had meant to his compatriots in Northern Ireland. Stephen Fry, best known for his Oscar Wilde in a touching film about that figure, depicted the honoree as "an act of God, a force of Nature, " and, in a toast to this sense of humor, noted that Branagh was the only one who'd ever made him laugh so hard he vomited. Film composer Patrick Doyle drew tears to some eyes when he sat down at the piano and played a theme he'd devised to accompany Branagh's magisterial St.Crispin's Day speech in Henry V.

Once she and Geraldine McEwan and Sir Derek Jacobi had shared the remaining messages from well-wishers who couldn't attend ("This is the number of our English dead," she intoned as she began unfurling what looked like a scroll), Dame Judi Dench, who'd received her own Golden Quill in May from her predecessor, Miss Zoe Caldwell, in New York's Barrymore Theatre, added her own tribute to all the praise that others had bestowed on Mr. Branagh for his brilliance, courage, thoughtfulness, and wit. She then asked him to come up for his just desserts.

He did so, and, after a few quips about a "medieval version of This is Your Life," he delivered an acceptance speech that illustrated all the qualities that had earned him so many fervent accolades from his various friends, colleagues, and loved ones.

With charming self-deprecation, he commended nearly everyone who'd contributed to his success, among them Hugh Crutwell, the drama teacher who'd laughed at the schoolboy Hamlet he'd tried as an audition piece for admission to RADA, David Parfitt and Stephen Evans, his early partners with the Renaissance Theatre Company and its counterpart the Renaissance Film Company, Tamar Thomas, his loyal administrative associate, and Dame Judi Dench's husband Michael Williams, whose acting had taught Branagh so much about the profession.

He singled out a global support group, the Ken-Friends, who'd donated thousands of dollars to the Ulster Association of Youth Drama, Mr. Branagh's favorite charity. He asked everyone to raise a glass to actor-director Richard Clifford, who'd overseen most of the arrangements for an evening Branagh later called "overwhelming." Then as he cradled his trophy and prepared to leave the stage, the walls of a storied setting reverberated with the din of a sustained ovation.

Through the generosity of Intermedia and Pathe, the UK producer and distributor of the awardee's new Love's Labour's Lost, and the kindness of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which made BAFTA's Princess Anne Theatre available, those who took part in this year's Gielgud activities had a chance to preview a palpable hit well before its scheduled release date. The two afternoon screenings were repeatedly punctuated with applause, and attendees were delighted to see several of the evening's participants, among them Mr. Clifford, who plays Boyet, in roles that will soon be entertaining moviegoers around the planet.

For these added attractions, and for the tea, scones, and hospitality that came with each viewing, the Guild is deeply grateful to Intermedia chairman Guy East and Pathe director Alexis Lloyd, as well as to Philip Rose and Geraldine Moloney, who collaborated with Julie Chadwell and Amy Minyard at BAFTA to provide these much-appreciated treats. The Guild is also pleasantly indebted to BAFTA's chief executive, John Morrell, and his capable assistant Sue Vale, for all their help and encouragement.

Others to whom the Guild owes special gratitude include trustee Lillian Solomon of the Naomi & Nehemiah Cohen Foundation, whose grant made this year's gathering possible, actor Clive Francis, whose wonderful caricatures adorned the printed program, Ken-Friend Ngoc Vu, whose Web site,, lured so many Kenthusiasts to the gala, Middle Temple catering manager Colin Davidson, who facilitated the ambience for a memorable occasion, and sculptor John Safer, whose gleaming trophy had never looked more splendid. The Guild also thanks marketing specialists Stephen Browning and Davina Christmas, and publicity consultants Sarah Keene and Jan Du Plain, who generated a remarkable volume of press coverage, from the BBC and ITN and NPR and SkyNews to the Guardian, the Independent, the International Herald Tribune, the New York Times, the Telegraph, the Times of London, and The Washington Post.


(Thanks to Ngoc, Catherine, Sarah Smith, Toni, Claire, Sondra and especially to Isabel for the audio source material.)

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For the Love's Labour's Lost page, click here.

For the Making of Love's Labour's Lost page, click here. Includes interviews, articles and essays.

For more essays and commentary on Love's Labour's Lost, click here.

For the story of Love's Labour's Lost, click here.

For the studio production notes for Love's Labour's Lost, click here.

Click here for Trust Kenneth Branagh. Interviews with the Belfast Telegraph and The London Guardian are paired with photos and screen captures from Love's Labour's Lost.

For the Daily Telegiraffe review of Love's Labour's Lost, click here.

For other reviews of Love's Labour's Lost, click here.

For the official website of Love's Labour's Lost click here.

For Branagh's thoughts on the film (from the LLL official website), click here.

For an interview with composer Patrick Doyle on the music in Love's Labour's Lost and more, click here.

For Love's Labour's Lost and more in the Guardian interview with Kenneth Branagh at the National Film Theatre's 1999 Branagh retrospective, click here.

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