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Heart of Darkness: A Signature Performance by Kenneth Branagh Audiobook

Heart of Darkness: A Signature Performance by Kenneth Branagh

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Audible Editor Reviews

After a half dozen sub-par narrations of Joseph Conrad's electrifying and polarizing classic portrait of colonization, Audible has taken matters in its own hands, enlisting dreamy dramatist Kenneth Branagh for voice work that is sure to finally hit the five-star mark. Branagh has won numerous top awards for his acting and directing, both on stage and in film. Audible has chosen wisely in Branagh, who is already well practiced in giving definitive voice to editions of beloved works from the likes of Shakespeare, Chekhov, and C.S. Lewis.

This time around, Branagh brings his charming brand of gravitas to Charles Marlow, a trenchant observer who sails down the Congo toward the end of the 19th-century for a chilling and unforgettable look at what the ivory trade has done to the soul of civilization. As his tiny ship navigates deeper into the jungle toward Kurtz, mysterious wunderkind of the inner station who is almost worshipped by the savage natives, Branagh slowly and gracefully melts into Marlow's chatty paranoia with an instinct for madness that the actor so well acquainted with Hamlet is expected to deliver. Branagh is by turns invigorating and haunting as Marlow emerges from the heart of darkness to perform an act of merciful deceit on the ailing Kurtz's behalf.

Famously criticized by postcolonial scholars for its portrayal of all Africans as less than human, and then equally famously adapted into Francis Ford Coppola's horrifying Vietnam portrait Apocalypse Now, this novel has survived a century of brutal treatments that nevertheless do not mar the beauty of the original text. Whether you treasured this book in high school English class or thought it was too boring to be worth your full attention, Joseph Conrad's essential best work is now finally ready for a proper revisiting thanks to Kenneth Branagh's superior narration. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

Prose that demands to be read aloud requires a special kind of narrator. For the Audible Signature Classics edition of Joseph Conrad’s atmospheric masterpiece, Heart of Darkness, we called upon four-time Academy Award nominee Kenneth Branagh.

Branagh’s performance is riveting because he reads as though he’s telling a ghost story by a campfire, capturing the story’s sense of claustrophobia, while hinting at the storyteller Marlow’s own creeping madness. Heart of Darkness follows Captain Marlow into the colonial Congo where he searches for a mysterious ivory trader, Kurtz, and discovers an evil that will haunt him forever.

With this landmark work, Conrad is credited with bringing the novel into the twentieth century; we think Branagh brings it into the twenty-first.

Stay tuned for more one-of-a-kind performances from actors David Hyde Pierce, Leelee Sobieski, Tim Curry, and more, only from Audible Signature Classics.

Listen to more Audible Signature Classics.

Public Domain (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Acclaimed Irish actor/director Kenneth Branagh impersonates Marlow in this recording. Admirably, while fully playing the drama, he never goes overboard. He plays the tale for the great yarn that it is." (AudioFile)

What Members Say

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  • Darwin8u
    Mesa, AZ, United States
    "Conrad's Brilliant & Wild Novella"

    The novella is literature's most compellingly roaming form and Conrad absolutely owns it with Heart of Darkness. I first read Conrad in high school, with throngs of other pimply kids. I liked it sure, but didn't understand all of the conflciting currents of this brilliant story. I was re-introduced to Heart of Darkness when I recognized it in Francis Ford Coppola brilliant Apocalypse Now. During the last few years I've been on a huge Conrad kick, listening or reading to Lord Jim, Victory, The Secret Agent, Nostromo, etc.

    The man is simply amazing. It is incredible to think that he could write better in his 3rd language (English) than most writers could ever hope to write in their first. In this way, he shares a lot with Nabokov.

    Anyway, this is one of those few works I constantly return to for its humanity and for its inspiriation. Kenneth Branagh's reading of HoD is amazing in both its depth and nuance.

    37 of 41 people found this review helpful
  • Harold
    San Angelo, TX, United States
    "From Civilization into Darkness"

    The enigmatic narrator Marlowe tells his dark story of madness and despair from the deck of a ship anchored in the Thames in the harbor of London, the then world's center of commerce and civilization. It ends in the heart of madness and despair, the Congo river deep in Africa. In this short novel, which has been called one of the most important works in modern literature, Marlow's voice is that of Kenneth Branagh, one of the finest of actors today. His voice gives a complete new dimension with an interpretation on a richer more meaningful level that is impossible with just the printed word.

    37 of 42 people found this review helpful
  • Sher from Provo
    "Dark story, much to ponder"

    This book is so full of symbolism that I had to listen to it twice to get the most out of it. I checked out sparknotes in between listens so as to get as much as I could out of the second listen, and it was a smart move on my part. If I had been satisfied with one time through, I would have missed the whole point of the story. It is a short book, more of a novella, which might help entice me to read it again in the future. It is a great allegory and commentary on human nature. Conrad is a great writer. I think I will ponder on this story for a long time and try to determine which character I am most like at an given time. I will also use it to analyze (not judge) those around me. It is inevitable, I think. Read this book if you enjoy stories that make you think, dig deep for hidden meanings, and analyze. It will stay with you for a long time. However, keep in mind that it was written for another era and much of the structure should not be considered or evaluated according to modern standards. It is a classic and will stand up to the test of time if the reader remembers that fact. The story itself is timeless.

    I can't say enough good about narrator Kenneth Branagh. Fabulous!!

    23 of 26 people found this review helpful
  • A User
    "Highly enjoyable."

    This was my first time reading Heart of Darkness. It was highly gripping, and Kenneth Branagh does a great job at narrating. I listened to the entire book in one sitting. There's not much more for me to add, because it is such a classic novella.

    31 of 37 people found this review helpful
  • Kyle
    Seattle, WA
    "Great narration"

    This is where I wish we could give two scores, one for narration and one for writing.

    I was assigned The Heart of Darkness in high school and despised every minute of it. In fact, I have often referenced it as my most-abhorred book.

    As an adult, I wanted to give the book a second chance, and I figured if I didn't like it with Kenneth Branagh narrating it, there was no hope for reconciliation. I figured that four hours was short enough a time to devote to this experiment.

    Branagh gets an A+. The narration is impeccable. If you like this story, you're in for a treat.

    Unfortunately, I still can't stand the book. I didn't agree with Conrad's premise as a kid and nothing has changed in the interim.

    But, that's just me. If you like this story or want to experience it for the first time, this is in the upper echelon of audiobooks.

    50 of 61 people found this review helpful
  • Paul
    Gilroy, CA, United States
    "Great Performance"

    Branagh gives a masterful performance and, yes, it is a performance. His confident portrayal of the characters, even the female ones, is so spot on. This is the kind of book that I joined Audible for. My education left me with a few holes literature-wise and Audible is how I'm going to plug those holes. I can only hope that other books will be given the bravura effort that Branagh gives here. I can not think of any reservation although it might be interesting to see the movie "Apocalypse Now" before or after hearing this book.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • Daniel
    Chesapeake, VA 23322

    It is tempting to see Heart of Darkness as a masterfully constructed parable on human nature (witness Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptation, in which the action was transposed to south-east Asia) but as historian Adam Hochschild has pointed out in King Leopold's Ghost, about the king's rape of the Congo, Conrad himself was quite clear that it was based on specific events he had witnessed, saying it was "experience… pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case". Despite his protestations, this is undeniably an invaluable historical document offering a glimpse into the horrific human consequences of the imperial powers' scramble for Africa as much as it is a compelling tale.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  • Nathan T
    "A wonderful listen"

    Kenneth Branagh's reading of this classic is truly wonderful, perfectly suited for Conrad's most famous story. I've listened to it twice now and found myself smiling at just how nuanced Branagh's reading can be. This is a great listen, both in terms of the narration and Conrad's timeless writing. Find a quiet spot and enjoy!

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  • C.B.E.
    Colorado, United States Minor Outlying Islands
    "One of English lit's finest works, finely rendered"

    I hadn't revisited "Heart of Darkness" for decades until I listened to this audiobook. My impressions are simple and intense.

    Regardless of the post-colonial critique of Conrad - he was, I believe, remarkably understanding of the wrongs of colonialism for a man of his time - the writing and the psychological depth of the novella are nearly unsurpassed in 19th- and 20th-century English language literature.

    In addition, Kenneth Branagh demonstrates here the difference between merely passable or even good dramatic reading, and true craftsmanship. I can't imagine how the publisher lured such an amazing acting talent into doing the narration of a book in the public domain, but Branagh's rendition is the finest of any audiobook I've ever listened to.

    I'm deeply impressed with both Conrad and Branagh.

    Thank you, Audible.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Press
    Lyndhurst, NJ, United States
    "Brilliant Performance"

    Kenneth Branagh has shared his prodigious talent with the world of audiobooks for more than 20 years. THE HEART OF DARKNESS for Audible, Inc. is his first foray into the latest medium of downloadable literature. Like his previous recordings, THE HEART OF DARKNESS is presented as a performance rather than a mere narration of this turn-of-the 20th century, English classic. Branagh uses his musical voice to transform into multiple characters, male and female, as well as individuals of various nationalities, within the story as it evolves. For most of the near 4 hour running time of this unabridged edition, Branagh plays the part of the main storyteller, Marlowe, an introspective sailor, leisurely relaying the tale of his long journey in a battered steamboat, up the Congo River to find Mr. Kurtz, the renowned company agent at the inner station.

    It is easy to empathize with Marlowe’s experiences as he decribes: his encounters with widespread inefficiency and brutality by civilized men in the Company’s stations; his growing fascination with Kurtz; the intimidating nature of the vast jungle and its peoples; and the realization of the amoral depths to which a man can sink.

    THE HEART OF DARKNESS is an absorbing story with the metaphor of darkness at its center, told by a patient and poetic author. Listening to Audible, Inc.’s production of THE HEART OF DARKNESS read by Kenneth Branagh adds another dimension to this multi layered tale of real and perceived darkness.

    14 of 18 people found this review helpful
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  • Wras
    "A reminder to question the conceits of culture"

    This is a story laden with history and the shame of that history , also a story that has metamorphosed into Apocalypse Now and Hearts of Darkness: A Film-makers Apocalypse A documentary of the making of the film that resembles some of the struggles in the book. This makes it hard to judge or criticize without those influences prejudicing the commentary.
    It is still a poignant story of the worst of colonial Africa, and the attitudes of the period. but at the beginning the narrator comments about how in the more distant past of Britain they had been the savages of the Roman empire giving us a glimpse that power and abuse are timeless.
    If you have ever wonder why so many animals are nearly extinct this book and its language is a very good example, the companies main interest is ivory but the one word never mention in the book is elephant and all that this men do is collect ivory. The casual and institutionalised abuse of the locals is I am sure described in a very sanitized way, I suspect that the HORROR was much larger. Conrad also describes and inefficient colonial force and wonder why the people of this lands never just wiped them out, it is ponder many writers have made about other conflicts the best reasoning and perhaps the saddest was by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago “ you surrender because you think “It’s a mistake! They will set things right!” but they is just you, the other "they" are not there to set things right but to implement the new regime and so it goes.
    Mr kurtz is not a truly well drawn character and the devotion felt by others seems strange to the modern reader; unlike Kurtz in Apocalypse Now who is charismatic and mad with modern Horror.
    A good book to look back and not forget the unlimited inhumanity of man in the pursuit of profit. A reminder to question the conceits of culture and ideology.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Mr
    Gloucester, United Kingdom
    "A treat for the senses"

    Ever since I first read this novella as part of my studies for A Level English Literature, Conrad's prose transported me to a radically different world where colonial Africa became an arena where mankind itself battled to remain uncorrupted and unaffected by the darker side of humanity. Branagh, as we would expect from a master actor of his calibre, captures this conflict for man's soul excellently as he assumes the character of Marlow and takes us through his journey to Africa, up the snake-like river and into the very heart of darkness.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Howler
    HYDE, United Kingdom
    "Five stars!"

    Superb narration by Kenneth Branagh - he injects such realism into the narrative. He must be my favourite male narrator of all time!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Anthony
    Sydney, Australia
    "Superb narration of a timeless classic"

    "The horror, the horror" ... timeless classic novel about colonial exploitation and oppression. Beautifully written, full of foreboding from the start. Difficult to switch off; probably best read/heard one uncluttered day from beginning to end as if you were sitting with Marlowe and listening to his tale via Conrad.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Amit
    Harrow, United Kingdom
    "Heart of Darkness - Read by Kenneth Branagh"

    I must confess I was initially put off by the "celebrity" author tag, but I am very glad I did get the audiobook. Branagh's reading verged on the lyrical in places - and he makes full use of his theatrical skills.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Tom
    Rickmansworth, Herts, United Kingdom
    "An Old Master Brought to Life"

    This is the story of a young man who takes on the role of ferry boat captain on an African river when Africa was both unexplored and a mystery to the civilised world. As a book it is both compelling and shocking. It has really been brought to life by Kenneth Branagh whose wonderful narration keeps the pace going and brings the personalities of people to life. It satisfies on multiple levels, firstly as a good story, then in the sense that it made me realise how the world had changed since this was written and actually I was listening to a social commentary on the time when Great Britain had an Empire and knowledge of the world was limited. Finally it is a book which variously amused me, made me angry and has left a mark on me unlike many books that are so easily forgettable.
    I will listen again and indeed seek out others from this genre. Well done Audible, good call.

    13 of 18 people found this review helpful
  • LorLor

    Not my usual choice of book, but I was gripped from the beginning. Kenneth Brannagh really brought it to life

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • John
    Lisbellaw, United Kingdom
    "There's Methody in the Madness"

    Terrific performance by Sir KB (an alumnus of Methodist college, Belfast: AKA Methody). Felt dramatic and emotional as apprpriate. The novel is a retelling of a tale and mostly in the storytelling style, hence the appropriateness of the presnetational style.

    The story itself is an interesting story. The film Apocolypse Now, closely follows the story with phrases and even names reused. It clearly is an homage to the book.

    Whilst far from uplifting the story is a good study of morality and mental balance. It length is perfect if you have a long journey and can complete it in one day. It dropped a star because of the style of language of the book. This is unfair as it was written for a contemporary audience, I guess, and language has moved on since then.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • alesdair
    BALLYMENA, United Kingdom
    "Just great"
    Would you listen to Heart of Darkness: A Signature Performance by Kenneth Branagh again? Why?

    Branagh is a cut above any other reader I have listened to before

    What was one of the most memorable moments of Heart of Darkness: A Signature Performance by Kenneth Branagh?

    If you are a fan of Apocalypse now then you will particularly enjoy understanding where the source material was drawn from.
    No doubt a tale of its time but listened to in that context, massively enjoyable.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Ros
    Marlborough, United Kingdom
    "Brilliant rendition!"

    Conrad's prose in Branagh's voice is a wonderful combination. The power of this novel is enhanced by the actor's sensitive handling of mood and tone. I have found myself listening more than once to some passages, where the author's emotive descriptions reward further attention. The narrative is fast paced and gripping and the creation of atmosphere superb.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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