If there’s one thing that defines the career of actor-director Kenneth Branagh—a man who has, in his day, veered between critically acclaimed adaptations of Shakespeare plays, to playing the legless, racist, robo-spider-driving bad guy in Wild Wild West, to directing Thor movies, to making Artemis Fowl—it’s that every choice seems designed, to perfection, to make an outside observer tilt their head to the side in a perplexed manner and go, “Really?” We can now add to that trend the data point, reported by THR this morning, that Branagh has just signed on to play UK prime minister Boris Johnson in an upcoming TV limited series about the COVID pandemic, and, uh…Really?
Specifically, Branagh will play human flop sweat droplet Johnson in Michael Winterbottom’s upcoming series This Sceptered Isle, which will see Winterbottom forego his usual habits of stalking Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon any time they get into a car with each other, in favor of exploring his country’s response to the global epidemic. Writing with Kieron Quirke, Winterbottom will direct all five episodes of the series, drawing from first-hand accounts ranging from nurses working on the front lines of the disease, all the way up to the office of the prime minister, who, again, will be played by Kenneth Branagh, and… Yeah, really?
Look, we’re not trying to disparage Branagh here, who can still be a fine actor when the mood takes him. It’s more that Johnson is already such a caricature of a human being—reactionary, faux jovial, and buffoonish in the face of tragedy—that it’s hard not to imagine the whole performance swiftly collapsing into a rapidly aggregating Jenga tower of quirks. Honestly, just imagining the haircut is already making us twitch a little bit.
Branagh last starred in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, in which he played both its bad guy, and its yug dab. (Sorry.) His last regular TV gig was the latest season of the UK version of morose Swedish detective series Wallander.