Sir Kenneth Branagh: Belfast shaped me and sent me into the world

Sir Kenneth Branagh is pictured at Belfast City Hall ahead of becoming a Freeman of the City of Belfast. Picture by Ann McManus

SIR Kenneth Branagh's love of Belfast may soon be brought to the silver screen in the form of a romantic comedy set in the home city that "shaped me and sent me into the world".

Speaking ahead of accepting the Freedom of the City yesterday, the Hollywood actor and director said he was "humbled" to be receiving the same honour as last year's recipients, the nurses of Belfast.

"I think was an amazing, brilliant, perfect choice from this city to honour people who do such an important thing and have done for so long," he said.

Sir Kenneth said his mother and father "would be super, super proud" of their son.

"I could have told them amazing stories, including I've literally just been in the poshest loo I've ever been in in my life," he said of the city hall's facilities.

"One of the most distinctive parts of so many religions have a version of is `Show me to the child until seven and I'll show you the adult'. I left when I was nine and we were a big extended family."

The award-winning thespian added his voice to calls for public funding for the arts, which supporters say have seen government subsidies fall by 40 per cent over the last five years.

"I came from originally a subsidised (route)," he said.

"My dad was a joiner and my mum worked in a chip shop and there wasn't much money about, and even back then I was interested in the arts."

Talking about the importance of early visits to the Grove Theatre - now the car park of a Lidl store on Shore Road - where he watched acclaimed actor Joseph Tomelty as the ghost of Jacob Marley in `A Christmas Carol', Sir Kenneth said he was inspired as a young man in Reading to apply for the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (Rada).

"My attendance was absolutely based on the possibility of being funded by government. My fees were paid for by Berkshire County Council for whom I did an audition as well as for Rada.

"My attendance was made possible by that government support, I don't know that I would have been able to go, my father wouldn't have been able to afford the fees."

Belfast City Council and Film Hub NI organised a pop-up `Branagh in Belfast' film festival, with free screenings of his movies across the city, including `Cinderella' at Belfast Castle and `Dunkirk' onboard the HMS Caroline.

He pointed out that, in addition to the social benefits, the arts bring in significant revenue in return for investment.

In terms of his own artistic investment his native city, Branagh said he often considers "whether a particular character (that) comes my way could have a Northern Irish background".

"The idea of doing something back here has always been something I have pondered and considered," he said.

"I always felt that I wanted to get it as right as possible (and) I haven't come across a particular character that has grabbed me."

He said the bar was "set so high" by his first role in `The Billy Plays', "being an Irish trilogy there were four plays".

"What I think I'd really, really like to do, I'd love to do a great romantic comedy set in Belfast."

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