Kenneth Branagh was born in Belfast, where he was educated at Grove Primary School, but at the age of nine he relocated with his family to Reading in England. He received an honorary doctorate in Literature (D.Litt.) from the Queen's University of Belfast in 1990.
The actor achieved some measure of success in his native Northern Ireland for his role as the title character in the BBC's Play for Today series known as the Billy Plays, written by Graham Reid (writer) and set in Belfast.
He has worked on both stage and screen. He received initial acclaim in the UK for his stage performances, including the title role in "Hamlet". He is probably best known for his popular film adaptations of the works of William Shakespeare, beginning with "Henry V" in 1989 and including versions of "Much Ado About Nothing" (1993), "Love's Labour's Lost" (2000) and "Hamlet" (1996). He has also starred in a number of other films unrelated to Shakespeare. In recent years, he has branched out into made-for-TV films. One of his most acclaimed portrayals has been that of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the film "Warm Springs", the story of how FDR sought a cure for his polio by buying the rehabilitation institute at Warm Springs, Georgia, and turning it into one of the most famous rehab institutes in the world. It was nominated for sixteen Emmys and won five. Branagh won an Emmy Award for his performance in the 2001 TV film "Conspiracy" which is the story of how the Nazis conceived the Final Solution. Branagh played Reinhard Heydrich in the film.
Branagh has been nominated for four Academy Awards, including two for directing and acting in "Henry V" and another for the screenplay of "Hamlet". He starred several times with his then wife, Emma Thompson; they were married in 1989, and divorced in 1995. He married again, in 2003, to film art director Lindsay Brunnock.
He also narrated the book "The Magician's Nephew" by C.S. Lewis for Harper Audio.
In 1994 Branagh declined to become a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).