A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet), A Bodkin & Helena
Thursday, November 23, 2006

On January 10, 1997 at 3:45pm I was to photograph actor Kenneth Branagh at the Hotel Vancouver. He was here on a publicity tour for his film Hamlet, in which he starred and directed. Days before, in an advance screening, I had seen Hamlet (the long two-hour, 42 minute version.
For the ever-so-familiar "To be, or not to be" soliloquy, Branagh ignored previous stage versions and took advantage of the unique capability of film. He performed it in front of a large mirror in a black 19th century military uniform with a stark checkered floor as background. I was enthralled.

When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would these fardels bear...

From his side he pulled out a bodkin(stilleto) and finished the soliloquy with it by his face. I knew how I was going to take my picture. Upon leaving the screeing room, I told the publicist's assistant, "It's going to involve a dagger."

The morning of my shoot, I was called by Branagh's Vancouver publicity agent and warned, "Under no circumstances are you to photograph Mr. Branagh with a dagger or a dirk. He is here as himself, not as Hamlet. Furthermore, you are not to raise the subject of her."(at the time, Branagh and Helena Bonham Carter were an item.)

I was ushered into Branagh's suite and I set up my lights. He came in but left the door ajar. His agent was in the other room. Branagh was a delight to photograph, but I kept eyeing my briefcase. Pointing in its direction, he whispered, "What's in it?" I opened it. He lifted the bodkin and placed it on the side of his face. I took my picture. Before leaving I gave him a little pewter frame with my portrait of Helena, taken a year before.

Shaking my hand, he said warmly, "I'll make sure she gets it."


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