Sir Ken and I have a lot in common

So it turns out that Ken Branagh -- or Sir Kenneth, as he's now known -- has something in common with me.

In most areas, we're far apart. He's mastered Shakespeare plays; I don't understand them. He's been knighted; I've seen "Camelot."

What we have in common, however, is illustrated by an exceptionally inept serving tray that it took me months to make in shop class. This remains on exhibit at the family cottage -- which my grandfather built, shortly after building his family home. The building-stuff trait bypassed me entirely.

And that's roughly the same thing that happened to Branagh, who has brilliant "Masterpiece Mystery" movies on the next three Sundays. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Like other Belfast blokes, Kenneth
Branagh could have gone into his father's business.

Fate, however, intervened. Branagh was
a very bad carpenter, he said; the opposite of his dad: “He was a
master and … I'm a liability when it comes to DIY (do it

So he became an actor and director,
from Shakespeare to “Thor” to the three new “Wallander”
mystery movies reaching PBS. He's a master of that – as proven by
his recent knighthood.

“It's kind of thrilling to hear,”
Branagh said of the “Sir Kenneth” tag. And it happened partly
because he was so bad at his dad's carpentry profession.

“I made a bench …. It's
unsittable-on, because it's unsafe,” Branagh said. “When I
started to build it – which my father could have done in a morning
– it took me three months.”

He built this awful bench as a boy, but
it's now at his home. “It didn't ever involve the idea of
understanding how you would support such a thing,” Branagh
said..”So now it sits at a rakish angle in our garden …. It's one
of the things my wife chooses to illuminate … my utter uselessness
as a practical man of the house.”

His parents, wisely, had no carpentry
expectations for him. “They were engrained with the idea that …
you have to follow your own heart about these things. They said it
really doesn't matter what you do as long as you are happy. Then I
said I wanted to be an actor and they said, 'Well, we didn't mean

Fortunately, he succeeded at it. At 51,
he's had two Oscar nominations for acting, two for directing and one
for writing. Now he does big action films and small ones about this
Swedish cop/.

“Kurt Wallander fit right into this
family of disconsolate single men that we seem to be making so much
traction with,” said Rebecca Eaton, the “Masterpiece” producer.

He's a lot like Morse and Sherlock
Holmes and other PBS crimesolvers – only with the added effect of
the Swedish mood and landscape.

“When I visited (Sweden),” Branagh
said,” I did feel this sort of sense of being in a landscape
painting …. Everything feels as though it's been composed by God
for you to have a very good think about.”

Then there are the rural nights, he
said. “It's as pitch-black as you can possibly imagine. Suddenly,
an environment that can seem magnificent and majestic in the day
feels very, very dangerous at night.”

There is, for a moment, bit of
contrast. The new season arrives, Eaton said, with Wallander in
mid-romance. “He had fallen in love and it looked like Kurt
Wallader might be the first cheerful Scandinavia detective in the
history of show business.”

That doesn't last, of course. New,
tough cases arrived, Branagh said, for this “obsessive man with
work (who) pays the price in personal life.”

Branagh admits to sharing some of those
traits, focusing too hard on his work. At least he's good at it; it
would be unfortunate to focus on bad carpentry.

– “Wallandar,” via “Masterpiece
Mystery,” 9-10:30 p.m. Sundays, PBS (check local listings)

– Three new movies, Sept. 9, 16 and