Since the success of his film version of William Shakespeare’s HENRY V, Kenneth Branagh has been hailed as the new Laurence Olivier. Yet, though precocious--especially in writing autobiography at the age of twenty-nine---Branagh does not seem to be unduly distracted by his success. If anything, he seems spurred on to work even harder.
BEGINNING, however, provokes an ambivalence in the reader. It is a struggle at first to take Branagh seriously; after all, an autobiography at his age does seem the height of conceit. Yet, Branagh wins over his audience with a detailed description of the very rocky path to becoming an actor and with fascinating anecdotes about famous Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) actors. The story about Brian Blessed’s approach to playing Claudius in HAMLET is at least worth the price of the book, as are the insights into the incomparable RSC actor Judi Dench and the renowned RSC director Trevor Nunn. the fact that Branagh got to where he is by sheer hard work and much talent also helps take the edge off anything that sounds a little too self-congratulatory.
The book stops just short of Branagh’s marriage to fellow actor Emma Thompson, who is mentioned only a few times. It would have made a most romantic ending to reveal that as Henry was wooing his French princess (played by Thompson) in the film, Branagh was courting Thompson.