Canby on Ken

The following are excerpts from the film reviews written by Vincent Canby for the New York Times,
before he became drama critic. He died on October 16, 2000 at the age of 76.

Review of Henry V, Nov. 8, 1989

Kenneth Branagh has done it. Who is Kenneth Branagh? He's the young Belfast-born actor and director who has transformed what initially seemed to be a lunatic dare into a genuine triumph. Mr. Branagh has made a fine, rousing new English film adaptation of Shakespeare's "Henry V", a movie that need not apologize to Laurence Olivier's 1944 classic.

One does not have to be an Anglophile to be moved by Mr. Branagh's Henry when in the late afternoon after Agincourt he turns bewildered to the French herald and asks which side has carried the day.

Review of Henry V, Jan. 21, 1991

Mr. Branagh's film is dark and chill, its battle scenes brutal and messy. His Henry is a man betrayed by his best friends, someone trying desperately to convince himself of the justness of his cause, riddled with guilts about his claim even to the throne of England. It rains virtually from the moment he arrives in France until he staggers from the muddy bog that is the field of Agincourt.

Review of Dead Again, Aug. 23, 1991

Kenneth Branagh is a young man in a hurry. The 30-year old Englishman, who directed and starred in the astonishingly fine screen adaptation of Henry V two years ago, now makes his American film debut with the aptly titled "Dead Again." The new film which accepts reincarnation as a fact of this life and others, is a big, convoluted, entertainingly dizzy romantic mystery melodrama. It's also another coup de cinema for Mr. Branagh, who directed it and stars in two roles. Though "Dead Again" is very much the work of a contemporary film maker, it's also a luxuriant evocation of the sort of overripe melodramas that Warner Brothers turned out 40 years ago with Barbara Stanwyck and Humphrey Bogart in the leads.

Review of Much Ado About Nothing, May 7, 1993

Kenneth Branagh, the nervy young Belfast-born actor and director, has done it again. In 1989 he challenged Laurence Olivier's reputation by making his own very fine, dark and dour, pocket-sized Henry V to stand alongside the classic Olivier film. Now he has accomplished something equally difficult. He has taken a Shakespearean romantic comedy, the sort of thing that usually turns to mush on the screen, and made a movie that is triumphantly romantic, comic and most surprising of all, emotionally alive.

Benedick's sudden abject, intensely felt admission of his love for Beatrice in a chapel, during one of their otherwise barbed arguments, takes the breath away. Because it is such a surprise amid the tumult, it has an emotional impact I've never experienced in Shakespeare, on stage or screen.

Mr. Branagh has done well by everyone, particularly Shakespeare. This "Much Ado About Nothing" is a ravishing entertainment.

Kenneth Branagh, in motion

(Canby reviews thanks to Virginia Wilhelm. Capture thanks to Isabel. )

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