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Kenneth Branagh: I left Belfast but it's still my home and I'd love to shoot a movie here

Actor can't get enough of our growing film industry, says Ivan Little

Published 28/05/2016

Actor Sir Kenneth Branagh
Actor Sir Kenneth Branagh
Sir Kenneth with students at the QFT in Belfast

Actor and film-maker Kenneth Branagh has revealed he would love to shoot a movie in his hometown, Belfast, which he hailed as a major force in the industry.

Speaking during a visit to the city yesterday to promote the work of William Shakespeare, Sir Kenneth said Game of Thrones, which is largely shot in Northern Ireland, was a "colossal, landscape-changing, world-famous and excellent piece of work" that had been an important advertisement for the film and television sector here.

"It's absolutely amazing what is going on here, and the standard is incredibly high," he added. "I know from people inside the business that people are very, very, very impressed by how things are done here."

Sir Kenneth also told how he was meeting officials from Northern Ireland Screen to discuss plans for the multimillion-pound Northside film studios in Belfast Harbour.

"I think it's a fantastic problem to have - that there's not enough studio space here to accommodate all the people from around the world who want to come and make films and television here," Sir Kenneth said.

The actor and director mentioned that he would love to make a film in Belfast, but added: "I tell you what, I am going to have to get in the queue."

The Belfast thespian marvelled at how three television productions that were made here - Line of Duty, Game of Thrones and The Secret - recently aired at the same time.

"That's some going," he added and smiled as he compared the current state of the industry to 1981, when he made the first of the three Billy plays for BBC television in Belfast along with the late Jimmy Ellis.

"We were up at Balmoral, where for six months of the year agricultural use was changed in order to allow us to go in and do 90 minutes of studio television," he said. "So for once a year, they (the TV drama makers) were playing tag with dairy farming."

Sir Kenneth was at the Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast to celebrate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death and to promote a series of films of the Bard's most celebrated plays.

He took part in a question and answer session with local schoolchildren before the screening of his adaptation of Much Ado about Nothing. He also later discussed his career as a director of Shakespearean films with Adrian Wootton, the CEO of Film London and the British Film Commission, in an interview beamed live to 70 cities across the UK.

Beforehand, Branagh told the gathered reporters that he believed Shakespeare's work challenged young people's minds and also helped to develop their critical faculties.

"After 400 years, it's become very flexible whether the Shakespeare we find is in an online clip or there's some new version of The Tempest that somebody sets at a rap festival," he said.

Sir Kenneth was asked if he had been exposed to much of the Bard in his years growing up in the Tigers Bay area of north Belfast.

He replied that he did not think he had been, but added that his first experience of live theatre was not far from his home - at the old Grove Theatre on the Shore Road.

"I went to see the great Joseph Tomelty playing the Ghost of Joseph Marley in a production of Scrooge and I remember that being very powerfully impactful on me," he said.

"I was also aware then of an actor called Stephen Rea. He was talked about in our household as a real proper actor. So there was a great pride in those who were achieving a degree of prominence.

"My dad was always very proud that he had seen Colin Blakely, but I don't know that Shakespeare ever came into the equation.

"There was an interest in acting and in the theatre - from a distance - but Shakespeare didn't come my way until I was about 13."

While the young Branagh moved with his family to England to get away from the Troubles, which by that time had engulfed Belfast, he said he still saw the city as home.

Later, he described the growing trend for filmed versions of theatrical productions being shown in cinemas around the world as a positive one.

He said that upwards of 300,000 people had seen a version of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, starring him and Dame Judi Dench, at costs that were much lower than the ticket prices for West End theatres.

Asked if that did not defeat the purpose of live theatre, he replied: "No, I don't believe that it does. You get a little whiff of that same excitement, and something happens to the actors when they know that as they speak 100,000 people are watching them."

Sir Kenneth is currently finding critical acclaim in the hit detective series Wallander, which is shown on BBC One on Sunday nights.

But would he ever fancy a role in Game of Thrones on his old Belfast doorstep?

He laughed and said that he was currently working with the Scottish actor Richard Madden, who played Robb Stark in the smash-hit fantasy HBO series, adding that maybe he would "put in a word" for him.

Tigers Bay boy hopes Norn Iron ‘do a Leicester’ at Euros

Football fan Sir Kenneth Branagh has backed Northern Ireland for European Championship glory this summer.

And he said the miracle men of Leicester City could spur Michael O’Neill’s side on to greatness in France.

Speaking during a flying visit back to his native city of Belfast yesterday, the Spurs fan who followed Linfield in his youth, said he was “keeping everything crossed” for the men in green.

“They’re exciting times,” said Sir Kenneth who grew up in the same Tigers Bay area as world champion boxer Carl Frampton, who is also a huge Northern Ireland supporter.

Sir Kenneth quoted our captain Steven Davis who has urged his Northern Ireland team-mates to invoke the spirit of Premiership champions Leicester City by springing a surprise in France.

Sir Kenneth added: “The so-called Leicester effect could persuade the so-called minnows that they do have a chance at the Euros.”

The actor described Northern Ireland’s group —  alongside Germany, Poland and Ukraine — as a “stinking” one.

“But we are there. And that’s exciting,” he added.

Sir Kenneth was speaking before screenings of his film adaptations of two Shakespeare plays at the Queen’s Film Theatre in Belfast near Windsor Park where Northern Ireland were playing Belarus last night.

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