Experts in turmoil as Branagh plays Shakespeare with traditional large nose
SIR KENNETH BRANAGH has always been able to sniff out a great role. But his latest film may leave some snorting with derision.
Playing William Shakespeare in All Is True, which he also directs, has reignited huge controversy... over the shape of the Bard’s nose.
The classically trained actor, 57, has delighted many scholars by wearing a “full prosthetic”.
Other experts, however, are convinced Shakespeare had a much smaller proboscis that gave him a less refined appearance.
Historians have been divided for centuries over what the Bard looked like and which artistic view of him from the 17th century paints the most accurate image.
Many believe the most likely resemblance is captured by the Chandos portrait, named after the dukes of Chandos who owned it, that has been hanging in London’s National Portrait Gallery since 1856. It is believed to have been painted by actor and artist John Taylor between 1600 and 1610.
But in 1991 new provenance emerged to authenticate an engraving by Martin Droeshout on the title page of the First Folio collection of Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623, seven years after the Bard’s death. It shows the writer with a smaller nose.
Shakespeare’s friend and fellow writer Ben Jonson said Droeshout had “hit his face” accurately.
Yesterday Sir Kenneth’s publicist confirmed the triple Bafta winner based his version of Shakespeare on the Chandos portrait. He said: “The portrait itself does, in fact, appear in the film and it has been a great source of inspiration for Ken.” A senior executive at Sony Pictures, which is distributing the movie, revealed: “There was a great deal of discussion about how Sir Kenneth’s Shakespeare should look and he followed a very traditional path.
“There was a smaller version, based on another artist’s work, but he obviously decided that would not work.
“Shakespeare’s goatee beard and quite angular nose are pretty much embedded in public consciousness.”
The actor, who developed a lifelong love of Shakespeare’s works while at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, has starred in several screen treatments, including Henry V, for which he was Oscar-nominated, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost and As You Like It.
All Is True, which hits UK cinemas on February 8, co-stars Dame Judi Dench as Anne Hathaway. It is set in 1613, when the Bard was already recognised as the greatest writer of his age.
He returns home to Stratfordupon-Avon after his Globe Theatre is destroyed by fire to face his troubled past and confront his failings as a husband and father.
Dr Tarnya Cooper, former curator at the National Portrait Gallery, also favours the Chandos likeness. She said: “It is certainly fairly likely we are looking at the face of Shakespeare.”
Artist Geoffrey Tristram, who was commissioned to create a painting for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016, told of his difficulty with the task.
He said: “There are few original pictures of Shakespeare and none that are face-on.
“To be honest, I was scared stiff as they are very careful about how Shakespeare is portrayed in Stratford-upon-Avon.
“It’s interesting the movie has gone to great lengths to get the image right – and quite right too.”
‘Smaller version wouldn’t work’
A NOSE BY ANY OTHER NAME: Sir Kenneth Branagh in All Is True. Right, Droeshout’s engraving and, below, the Chandos portrait