Sir Kenneth Branagh thanks city that shaped his career

Sir Kenneth Branagh in Belfast City Hall before being made a freeman of the city
Sir Kenneth Branagh in Belfast City Hall before being made a freeman of the city

Having left Belfast at the age of nine, Sir Kenneth Branagh said he was humbled to be honoured by the city which encouraged him to “celebrate language and stories”.

Tonight in the Ulster Hall, he is due to be made a freeman of the city at an event attended by invited guests and members of the public.

Sir Kenneth himself tread the boards in the historic venue, joined by some of Belfast’s finest emerging and established actors and writers.

Earlier the 57-year-old actor and director visited Belfast Boys’ Model and Aquinas Grammar School where he spoke to pupils before screenings of ‘Thor’ and ‘Much Ado About Nothing’.

He also introduced a special screening of ‘Dunkirk’ on board the HMS Caroline.

Having grown up in north Belfast, Branagh has gone on to receive Oscar nominations for his roles in ‘Henry V’ and ‘My Week With Marilyn’. Most recently he wrote and starred in an adaptation of Agatha’s Christie’s ‘Murder On The Orient Express’.

At Belfast City Hall on Tuesday morning he spoke to the media and answered some questions about his life as an actor and the influence that Belfast has had on his career.

He said: “The impact [Belfast] had was being celebratory about language, about stories.

“We were a very big extended family and whenever we got together ... everyone had something to do – a song or a poem or a story. They enjoyed sharing it.

“Nobody was from a showbiz background but everybody was very interested in people. I think it made me enjoy words, enjoy performance and it made me see that as a very natural part of life.

“That freedom and imagination is what I think I carried away from here.”

Responding to a question from the News Letter about the number of characters from Northern Ireland he has portrayed, Branagh revealed that the famous ‘Billy’ plays represented the first and last time he has played a character from the Province.

“I was so lucky that the standard was set so high with the first professional job I had as an actor in Graham Reid’s Billy plays,” he said.

He added that while he would love to give one of his characters a Northern Irish background the right one has just not come along yet.

He also said he is keen to put together a “great romantic comedy” set in Belfast.

The Ulster Hall event was to journey back to the start of Branagh’s acting career in Reid’s ‘Billy’ plays, and also featured works by local playwrights Owen McCafferty, Sinead Morrissey, Emma Must and fellow freeman of the city Michael Longley.

Ian McElhinney – who stars in both ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Derry Girls’ – was among those performing.