“We are the makers of manners”

The Branagh Phenomenon
  • Mark Thornton Burnett


This essay concerns itself with the development of Kenneth Branagh as a Shakespearean film director, producer, performer, and interpreter. It addresses all of Branaghs Shakespeare films to date, arguing that they can only be properly understood when discussed as a corpus and in relation to the cinematic work of his predecessors and contemporaries. Like Henry V, his alterego, Branagh is distinctive for having made (or created) the manners (or fashions) that have revitalized “Shakespeare” for a postmodern clientele. At the same time, however, Branagh has become the victim of these manners; although he has exorcized himself of the ghosts of previous luminaries of the establishment, he has now to compete with a host of related Shakespearean filmic interpretations, treatments that he himself has been instrumental in popularizing. In the same way that Frankenstein, another role reinvented by the auteur, is plagued by his creature, so has Branagh come to be haunted by his own screen progeny. As a result, Branaghs cinematic renditions of the Bard for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries reveal a movement from an entrenched, establishment-bound veneration for the dramatist to a much freer, more playful engagement with the “Schlockspearean.” Through Branaghs career in miniature, then, we can glimpse the contours of a development that has marked Shakespearean studies in general, a critical position that begins with serious adaptation and ends with appropriation, kitsch, and even pastiche. More generally, the desire to bring Shakespeare to as broad a community as possible has involved Branagh in the production of “schlock” outside the strictly demarcated classical forum, the release of Mary Shelleys “Frankenstein” (1994), with its deployment of horror and slasher movie motifs, being but one example.


Film Version Spearean Film Opening Scene Time Literary Supplement Henry Versus 
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Copyright information

© Richard Burt 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Thornton Burnett

There are no affiliations available

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