• Golden Globe Awards

Winners Circle 2022: Nominee Profile 2022: Kenneth Branagh, “Belfast”

With his new film Belfast, writer-director Sir Kenneth Branagh returns to the home of his childhood, along the way scooping up an impressive tally of nominations for the 2022 Golden Globe Awards. The semi-autobiographical story of a small boy whose peaceful life is thrown into disarray when the Northern Irish political unrest known as the Troubles hits his hometown, it has won him nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay, along with Best Supporting Actress for Caitriona Balfe, Best Supporting Actor for both Jamie Dornan and Ciarán Hinds, and Best Original Song for “Down to Joy,” by Branagh’s buddy and fellow Northern Irishman Van Morrison.
It has been easy over the years to lose sight of Kenneth Branagh’s Celtic roots. Brought up since the age of 9 in the English town of Reading, where his family had moved to escape the violence at home – and where he has admitted that he deliberately lost his Belfast accent in order to fit in with the locals – he received his acting training at England’s premiere acting school, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), and almost immediately after he graduated had established himself as the wunderkind of the English theatrical scene.
At 23, he was starring on stage as Henry V with the legendary Royal Shakespeare Company; at 29, he was both directing and starring in the film version of the play; since then, he has turned almost everything he touches to cinema gold, directing everything from more Shakespeare (from Hamlet, 1996, to Romeo and Juliet, 2016), to superhero movies (Thor, 2011) to fairy tales (Cinderella, 2015) and playing anyone from Sir Laurence Olivier (My Week With Marilyn, 2011,) to Hercule Poirot (Murder On The Orient Express, 2017 and Death on the Nile, to be released in 2022), to Shakespeare himself (All is True, 2018).
More recently, however, he has been finding himself drawn back to his Northern Irish past. In 2020, he directed Artemis Fowl, a science fantasy adventure film based on a series of novels by Irish writer Eoin Colfer, and at the time told the HFPA that he was attracted to the material by memories of the stories told by his own family back in Belfast.    
‘There were a lot of us,’ he said of the Branagh clan. ‘My mother had eleven siblings, my father had five, so I had dozens of cousins. We would all meet in each other’s houses, and very quickly when we did meet, the members of the family would start telling stories. It would start with something that happened in ancient Belfast, and then it would go back to something that happened even earlier in the center of the country.  And then they’d go back further still and start to talk about trolls and giants and how the Giant’s Causeway – that wonderful incredible natural phenomenon on the North Coast of Ireland – had been formed, and all the battles it had been involved with. I grew up with a real sense of delight in storytelling – along with a complete lack of concern about whether the story in question was true or not: as they say, the Irish have never let the truth get in the way of a good story!’
He had been planning a film about Belfast for some time but says it was the 2020 Covid lockdown that gave him the impetus to write it. “The writing process was about eight weeks and 50 years,” he said in a Q & A session after a screening of the film in Los Angeles. “I’ve wanted to write something about Belfast for a long time, and I made many notes over many decades. And the introspection and the silence at the beginning of the lockdown sent me back to another lockdown, which was the one that we (the Branagh family) experienced at that time. It was one of those things that poured out and then it gathered a momentum of its own.”
Branagh has previously been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards – for Much Ado About Nothing, 1993, Conspiracy, 2001, Warm Springs, 2005, Wallander: One Step Behind 2009, and My Week With Marilyn 2011 – but has yet to score a win. Maybe Belfast will be his lucky charm.