Henry V Tenth Anniversary

Welcome to this special feature which celebrates the Tenth Anniversary of the 1989 release of Kenneth Branagh's film of Shakespeare's HENRY V.

In 1999, to commemorate the achievement of his debut film, on the occasion of his 39th birthday, supporters of Branagh organized the "Henry V Project"--which raised thousands of dollars for a charity in Northern Ireland known as the the Ulster Association of Youth Drama. UAYD received a donation of $4,507.00 in honor of Kenneth's birthday on December 10, 1999. The certificate read:

"For the occasion of Kenneth Branagh's 39th birthday on December 10, 1999 Ken Friends and other fans have contributed 2777 GBP to the Ulster Association of Youth Drama November 18, 1999."

Branagh received news of the donation, the second of its kind, shortly before he received the Gielgud Award in January 2000 from the Shakespeare Guild. Branagh took time during his own tribute to publicly thank his audience, and specifically the Ken-Friends, for their support and for the money raised. In a separate communication, Branagh sent his thanks:

"To everyone who contributed to the Ken-Friends birthday gift to the U.A.Y.D. - a huge thank-you.

What a fantastically generous way to enter the new millennium. My friends in Northern Ireland are delighted and amazed by your repeated kindness and support. I was so glad to be able to thank some of the Ken-Friends in person at the Gielgud Award event. To my absolute delight, there seemed to be great enthusiasm for "Love's Labour's Lost" which many of them saw on the same day. If it gives as much pleasure as they seemed to indicate, then I'm delighted to be repaying, in part, some of the great debt I owe you all for your support. You are a major reason, these films get financed. Film companies know of our tremendous, loyal support. It makes a difference.

So for everything, once again, thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.

                                                                                                  Kenneth Branagh."

About UAYD

UAYD began as the Ulster Youth Theatre, a residential summer program for 40 students. The organization has grown into 35-40 groups throughout Northern Ireland with 1000 participants. In 1998, Branagh supporters gave the UYT a donation in in Branagh's name, which helped to pay for food & lodging so that young people could participate in theatre training programs.

Last year, nine students received financial aid: 4 of the students went to London and the other 5 worked in Belfast. The Belfast group produced West Side Story at the Waterfront Hall, the largest venue in Belfast. That group will do a tour of London as well (UYT has been reknowned for their performances in the past).

The director of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland was thrilled over the UAYD donation. "As usual your fundraising activities continue to astound me! How kind you all are to take such time over the UAYD....long may it continue! My thanks from all of us here for all your help and kindness."

Here's what UAYD published in the October 1999 issue of their magazine "Platform":


In November 1998 UAYD was delighted to receive the news that a donation was being made to the company to mark the birthday of our patron Kenneth Branagh. The donation was made by the Ken-Friends - an ever-growing group of Kenneth Branagh fans from around the world who meet through a private email list. Thanks to the fundraising efforts of organiser Jude Tessel, UAYD was able to set up the first Ken-Friends Training Bursary Scheme, and in June of this year nine awards were made to members who were undertaking training programmes during the summer months.

Our congratulations are offered to Orla Hegan, Stephen Keeley, Andre McClean, Mark Neill and Helen Vance, who fought off stiff competition to secure places on the Nation Youth Theatre summer workshop programme in London, and also to Gordon Crawford, Robert Lewis, Gerard McCarthy and Claudine Quinn whose bursaries helped them attend the Ulster Theatre Company Musical Theatre Training Course which culminated in the fabulous production of West Side Story.

This year, Branagh fans celebrated the Tenth Anniversary of HENRY V in Spain, London, Canada, and New York.

For a three-part feature about Branagh's HENRY V, click here.

What the critic's said in 1989 . . .

Best Director, The National Board of Review
Best New Director, New York Film Critics Circle
Best Actor and Best Young European Film of the Year, European Film Awards
Best Director, BAFTA
Best Film, Evening Standard Award
Best Foreign Film, Chicago Film Critics Award
Nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role and
Best Director, Academy Awards (Oscars)

And what they said later . . .

Great Dane (Excerpt)
December 1996
by Cary M. Mazer

Seven years ago, Kenneth Branagh was cinema's (and Shakespeare's) newest wunderkind. I had interviewed him for City Paper back in 1989, when he came through Philadelphia promoting his first film, Henry V. He was then virtually unknown to Americans, except through a few supporting roles in British films (notably A Month in the Country) and television (the serialized Fortunes of War, where he met his wife Emma Thompson; and does anyone, other than me, remember him as Glenda Jackson's son in Act 9 of an endless British TV adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude?).

But I already knew his work in England on stage, from his debut season with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984 (playing Henry V, Laertes and the King of Navarre in Love's Labour's Lost), and from some of his work with the Renaissance Theatre, the stage company that he had brashly co-founded in the late '80s, for which he played Hamlet (directed by Derek Jacobi) and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing (directed by Judi Dench). He was a star on the rise -- certainly stellar enough for me, a stagestruck, starstruck Shakespearean, to hold in awe.

But he was also (I was assured by my friend Russell Jackson, a professor at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford who works with Branagh as• his literary advisor) a down-to-earth worker in the theatrical trenches.

And so he was.

The American reception of Henry V, along with its Academy Award nominations, changed all that. The Renaissance company toured the United States, first playing in -- you guessed it -- Los Angeles. Other film directing projects followed (Dead Again, Peter's Friends, Much Ado About Nothing, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for Francis Ford Coppola and A Midwinter's Tale), as did other film roles (including Iago in Oliver Parker's Othello), and a Hollywood-style separation and divorce.

Cary M. Mazer: I last had the chance to interview you when you had just directed your first film, Henry V , and people were comparing you to Laurence Olivier (who had made his film-directing debut directing himself in that same role) and to the young Orson Welles. Seven years later, you've directed seven films, three of them adaptations of Shakespeare. Now when you want to make a movie you get major studio backing; you make a four-hour film in 70 mm; and instead of scouting out a villa in Tuscany as you did for Much Ado About Nothing , you get to build a million-dollar set of a baroque throne room on two sound stages. Has all this changed you as an artist?

Kenneth Branagh: It sounds rather extraordinary when you put it in a potted version like that. Thank God it happened over a period in which, project to project, one was unaware of the extraordinary way in which one's path hasbeen paved. Every venture, every Shakespeare film has been difficult to finance, and every one of the other films has had its dramas and anxieties. I've taken nothing for granted -- at least I tell myself that I'm taking nothing for granted. So I just kind of get on with it, head down. And I have the real luxury of being able to pursue those things that really passionately interest me.

We had no concept of the success and the kind of acclaim that Henry V would receive, and the sort of faintly invidious position it puts you in internally: you realize that with one film you are not suddenly a man who knows how to make films, or any form of expert about Shakespeare, but simply someone who has produced this piece of work that had an extraordinary reaction. A lot of that time in between has been spent practicing as hard as I can to begin to understand a little more of this thing that I hadn't exactly fallen into, but that I certainly fell into an accelerated version of... and that can and probably has been rather throwing.

CMM: When you founded the Renaissance Theatre Company, when you did your first radio version of Shakespeare play, when you filmed Henry V, there was talk about your doing all the Shakespeare plays. Is that still a goal?

KB: What I learned from the experience of doing is that you cannot have a goal of just doing them all for their own sake. You have to have a passionate desire to tell a specific story. My name is not on every one of those plays. I think you have to do the plays, be involved in the plays, you feel strongly about --powerfully strongly about. For us, Jack Lemmon doesn't carry the same baggage as he may do here. His ultimate kind of quality is being an Honest Joe -- exactly what I wanted for Marcellus. Yet I think, for some people over here, that's been a difficult thing to accept, just to hear that man say those things."

CMM: What's still out there that you want to do?

KB: In the not so distant future, if I have the chance to do them, Love's Labour's Lost and Macbeth. I want to do Love's Labour's Lost as a musical. I've always liked the play. It's very funny, very melancholy, very unusual, and has this peculiar Shakespearean magic in there, it really breaks your heart at the end, and it's also silly -- very, very silly.

I find that I get an idea about the world in which it's set, the period if you like (though I try to make all our periods pretty loose), and then you just keep putting every scene and every character up against that idea to see whether it's going to limit it or work for that character. For Macbeth, it's witchcraft -- you really have to find a world in which you believe that witchcraft is in the air, that it's real. I want get a world going for the characters where the witchcraft really sends shivers down your spine, so that you know, when Macbeth knows, when he makes this pact with the devil's representatives, how very serious it is; so religion has to be very important. Then the marriage between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth -- that marriage has to be very carefully set. She says, "I have given suck," and yet they don't have children; is she older, is she younger? And it's Scotland. You get an idea, you get pictures. And these I find are "anchor pictures." With each of those plays now, in terms of the development of a film, I've got several scenes in each (many more in Love's Labour's than in Macbeth) where I can see the film and hear it. I can see the dance routine in Love's Labour's Lost: I can see a fantastic library, a fantastic circular library, and a dance routine on skateboards (but it's not a set now; a version of skateboards), and with them going all the way around the ceiling. I can see the women on punts on a river. So I'm currently bashing away at those two plays. I carry copies of the plays with me (I've got them in my bag), and I'll sit and study a scene for a bit, and make notes, and work up some storyboarded images.

CMM: Twenty years from now, 30 years from now, when people look back on your career, what would you want them to say: that he was the great popularizer, the great filmmaker, the great actor, the great classical actor?

KB: I'd want them to look back and say, "He's funny."

Interview with Branagh (Excerpt)
December 13, 1998
Conducted by Lisa of Ken-friends

Lisa: I was talking to Christian Bale a couple of weeks ago, who said that working on "Henry V" was such a mind-opener for him, as he was going through some sort of little inner turmoil about whether he should go to school to learn to act [Ken grins and nods], or if he should just go the way he was with his instinct. He said that watching you and everyone else around him do Shakespeare and make it completely tangible, digestible, livable and breathable, had more influence on him than anything that he believes he could have studied if he had gone to any school.

Branagh: I think that there's a--I agree, to some extent, that the doing of it is the, you know, taking action in that sort of way, the practicing, is good, and practicing in a practical way, I mean, linked to actually doing a show or making a film, is very important and sometimes just as valuable or even more valuable in some cases than sort of laboratory study. I think anything's legitimate. People come at it from all sorts of different ways But that [film of Henry V] was a particular example of a lot of extraordinary people all together, all striving for the same thing: of making complicated language sound as effortless as possible and revealing all the jewels sometimes hidden there, or sometimes obscured by actors themselves. But in all cases those people were great examples of being fearless about tackling it head-on, with all the skills that any actor should have, you know ? Desire and ambition to be truthful and real with the character. It's just with Shakespeare it's a different set of tools you have to use.

Thanks to Ngoc, Virginia, Lisa, and Jude in connection with this issue, and congratulations to Renata and the team, along with the 2B-ers, Ken-friends and other enthusiastic supporters for making the Henry V Tenth Anniversary project a success.

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