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Heart of Darkness: A Signature Performance by Kenneth Branagh

Narrated by: Kenneth Branagh
Length: 3 hrs and 49 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (300 ratings)

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Editorial 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.

Public Domain (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"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 listeners say about Heart of Darkness: A Signature Performance by Kenneth Branagh

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Most enjoyable

Branagh’s reading of this dark yet rich tale was a transporting experience for me. Recommended!

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Stunning performance

Simply stunning performance by Kenneth Brannagh. This book is considered one of the greatest works of Western literature and deservedly so

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An exceptional performance!

An utterly exceptional performance by Kenneth Branagh. His imaginative and articulate performance gives a great depth and richness to Conrad’s story.

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Greater than I ever thought possible

Greater than I ever thought possible. a shattering story of colonial adventurism as seen through the eyes of the protagonist

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Heart of Darkness

Colonisation is bad and I feel very sad for the elephants. A product of its time.

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Incredible

Amazing novel that will leave you captivated. Kenneth Branagh does an amazing job reading it. Highly recommend.

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classic

definitely worth a listen excellently read and beautifully written with a dark and haunting story

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Brought to life excellently

Branagh's performance really breathes life into this classic. I will definitely listen many times over.

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Kenneth Branagh is spectacular

Kenneth Branagh made this an interesting story. I have read the book before and found it fell short. Mr Branagh's reading changed that for me.

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Fantastic.

Great story & superb narration. Downloaded the book on a whim & Im glad I did.

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  • Long_Schlong_Silver
  • 27-09-2018

Disgusting Revision

The text is exceptionally well recited. HOWEVER, in researching this novella I came to realize a disgusting change had taken place. The word "nigger" has been completely scrubbed from this reading and replaced with the word "black." I find this to be appalling, as it has substantially changed the tone of the narrator's commentary on black Africans. The text is now fundamentally changed. This change was no doubt well-meaning, but implies that historical reality itself is unsuitable, offensive, and so unnecessary to understanding the literature that it warrants revision. As a consequence, just to preserve an idiotic sense of comfy politeness during the reading of a novel which largely features violent European imperialism, the editors have disarmed the reality of the text and removed it from history. I am most offended in that I would have never noticed this change had I not researched it further, giving me a false impression of the author, rhe story's contents, and its place in history. I cannot stress enough how disappointed I am by this. It was such an excellent reading, otherwise.

165 people found this helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • 21-11-2012

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.

66 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Harold
  • 11-12-2010

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.

50 people found this helpful

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  • Michael
  • 11-06-2017

God is Dead (for the first time)

I had not read any Conrad until recently, and was mildly surprised Conrad had four novels on Modern Library's Top 100 list (more than any other author). Having now completed the four Conrad novels on that list (Nostromo, Lord Jim, The Secret Agent, and The Heart of Darkness) I definitely enjoyed this version of the Heart of Darkness the most, yet I did not find any of these "must reads" except to gain, first hand, a historical perspective on modernist literature.

Conrad's writing of around 1900 is essentially modern and the earliest novels I have found in which "God is dead". This is not at all explicit, but is subtly, yet distinctly, implicit. In the 1880's Nietzsche declared "God is dead" but it took a while before novels began to explore this viewpoint. I was not expecting this outlook when I started Heart of Darkness, I was expecting a dark adventure novel. I found the writing excellent, but was surprised by the modernist outlook and style elements.

Some have considered Heart of Darkness racist, as the novel clearly objectifies native Africans. I would contend that Conrad objectifies everybody in his novels. There is racism, but it is the racism of the the society and characters, not of the author. The author seems to point out the absurdity, and mindless conformity, of racism (and many other social constructs). The novels are not about story, or about character, but instead are impressionistic interpretations of the author's nihilistic existentialist world view. The author's language is rich and powerful with exaggerated and non-linear descriptions.

Sometimes a book makes a "best" list because it is truly great, sometimes because it is very good and was a creative first. I think the latter applies to these Conrad novels.

There is a strong similarity of fundamental outlook between these four novels. I am happy to have read them all, but won't recommend them all to my daughter...I will recommend Heart of Darkness.

The narration by Branagh is wonderfully perfect and this narration makes this a really wonderful first Conrad.

25 people found this helpful

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  • Sher from Provo
  • 05-11-2011

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!!

31 people found this helpful

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  • Thomas
  • 06-02-2018

Branagh kills it

Branagh's performance is absolutely stunning, especially so in the 3rd & final chapter. Would highly recommend

4 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Kyle
  • 10-12-2010

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.

64 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-12-2010

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.

37 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Paul
  • 24-02-2011

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.

11 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Daniel
  • 18-02-2011

GREAT AUDIOBOOK!

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.

13 people found this helpful

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  • S. Goodyear
  • 13-04-2016

Haunting and beautiful

This classic text was beautifully narrated and evoked such vivid images of the events taking place that you could imagine yourself part of the story each time you listened.
Anyone who enjoys a well written and decadent story should listen to this recording. I have read the story many times but to hear it read to you by such a well spoken and emotional voice is fantastic. Kenneth Branagh is amazing as the story teller and with his perfect diction and English accent transports you back in time to the setting of the tale without affectation or pretence.
Although the subject matter is dark it is a joy to hear the tale told.
A must listen!

19 people found this helpful

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  • Fiona
  • 13-05-2016

Just bliss

Such a strange eerie story. So beautifully read - Kenneth Branagh has such a rich, expressive voice. Highly recommended.

16 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Mr
  • 23-12-2012

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.

13 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amit
  • 27-05-2011

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.

13 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anthony
  • 19-01-2013

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.

15 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Howler
  • 07-04-2012

Five stars!

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

10 people found this helpful

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  • fishfanatic
  • 06-04-2016

Very deep.

Fantastic story that formed the basis for the film Apocalypse Now. Far better than the film and vastly more expansive in scale.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Wras
  • 06-03-2015

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.

9 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Tom
  • 13-04-2011

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.

18 people found this helpful

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  • Emmanuel Zakebam
  • 28-11-2016

Unmissable!

A mellifluous romp through the darkest recesses of the human soul, beautiful and bitter in equal measure... Branagh's reading is unsurpassable and captures every subtlety of the text. Unmissable!

11 people found this helpful