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While at the Toronto International Film Festival, Kenneth Branagh talked about the experience of screening his latest directorial efforts, Focus Feature’s Belfast, in a theater. “You just don’t know how it is going to play in a group,” said the filmmaker, who wrote, directed, and will soon release the movie all during the pandemic.
Branagh said the Sunday TIFF screening at Roy Thomson Hall was the biggest group of people he has watched a film with since the onset of the pandemic: “Far more than I have seen for the past 18 months in a darkened room watching a movie together.” The writer-director teared up during the audience Q&A portion of the evening, which followed a standing ovation.
During one of the festival’s “In Conversation with…” series late the next morning, Branagh discussed how he began the process of scripting Belfast, an autobiographical story based on his own childhood growing up in the titular city during the politically turbulent time of the 1960s.
“As I started to write it at the beginning of the lockdown, it was a search to return to that lace for certainty,” said the filmmaker of Belfast, which also screened at the Telluride film festival and is due out in theaters on Nov. 12. “I wanted to go back to a place before such a moment that was so secure and so settled. You knew who you were and where you belonged and you simply couldn’t get lost.”
In talking about Belfast, Branagh also reminisced on his directorial debut, the screen adaption of Shakespeare’s Henry V. He recounted a lesson learned from actor Charles Kay, who played the Archbishop of Canterbury in the film. “He said, ‘Stop right there, Ken. Never show me how to do it,'” remembered Branagh of offering a line-reading to the actor before a take. “He said, ‘You have got to find some words or you have got to give me some space.'” He took that lesson to heart and into the rest of his directing career, which has included Much Ado About Nothing and Murder on the Orient Express. “That was a good lesson in not teaching anybody’s grandmother to suck eggs,” Branagh joked.
When asked if there was a Shakespeare-penned character that he has yet to play and still wants to, Branagh cited his Irish-bred superstition as never seriously considering any future character prospects. He finally offered: “If pushed, I have often thought Falstaff is a character I am drawn to; down the road a bit maybe, King Lear.”
Also discussed was Branagh’s love of film. With longtime collaborator, cinematographer Haris Zambarloukoshaving, he shot Belfast in black-and-white and on film. “The level of details and texture, particularly in black and white, has always been important to me,” said Branagh, who also shot Death on the Nile on film, 65mm, and recently viewed the print of the upcoming 20th Century feature at the Britsih Film Institute. He said that he enjoys the “alchemical” aspects of the process and seeing the massive physical copies of his movies: “There is a handmade quality to it.”
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