Branagh is the middle of three children of working-class Protestant parents Frances (née Harper) and William Branagh, a plumber and joiner who runs a company that specialises in fitting partitions and suspended ceilings. He lives in the Tiger’s Bay area of the city and is educated at Grove Primary School.
At the age of nine, Branagh moves with his family to Reading, Berkshire, England, to escape the Troubles. He is educated at Whiteknights Primary School, then Meadway School, Tilehurst, where he appears in school productions such as Toad of Toad Hall and Oh, What a Lovely War!. He attends the amateur Reading Cine & Video Society (now called Reading Film & Video Makers) as a member and is a keen member of Progress Theatre for whom he is now the patron. He goes on to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and in 2015 succeeds Richard Attenborough as its president.
Branagh has both directed and starred in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare‘s plays, including Henry V (1989) (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Academy Award for Best Director), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Othello (1995), Hamlet (1996) (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay), Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000), and As You Like It (2006).
Branagh stars in numerous other films and television series including Fortunes of War (1987), Woody Allen‘s Celebrity (1998), Wild Wild West (1999), The Road to El Dorado (2000), Conspiracy (2001), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Warm Springs (2005), as Major General Henning von Tresckow in Valkyrie (2008), The Boat That Rocked (2009), Wallander (2008–2016), My Week with Marilyn (2011) as Sir Laurence Olivier (nominated for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), and as Royal Navy Commander Bolton in the action-thriller Dunkirk (2017). He directs such films as Dead Again (1991), in which he also stars, Swan Song (1992) (nominated for Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) in which he also stars, The Magic Flute (2006), Sleuth (2007), the blockbuster superhero film Thor (2011), the action thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) in which he also co-stars, the live-action film Cinderella (2015), and the mystery drama adaptation of Agatha Christie‘s Murder on the Orient Express (2017), in which he also stars as Hercule Poirot.
Branagh narrates the series Cold War (1998), the BBC documentary miniseries Walking with Dinosaurs (1999), Walking with Beasts (2001) and Walking with Monsters (2005). He has been nominated for five Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, and has won three BAFTAs, and an Emmy Award. He is appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 2012 Birthday Honours and is knighted on November 9, 2012. He is awarded the Freedom of the City of his native city of Belfast in January 2018.