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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

"The horror! The horror!" In this brooding and justly celebrated novella of 1902, seaman Charles Marlow is cruising quietly down the Thames at dusk with some friends. As night begins to fall, he tells them of his harrowing journey down an African river in search of the unscrupulous and near-legendary ivory trader named Kurtz, a quest deep into inky spiritual and symbolic darkness. 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. But had he taken more cognizance of its trajectory and subtleties, he would have made the listening experience far richer than he has.

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.

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

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (706 )
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4.5 (588 )
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Performance
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  •  
    S. Goodyear 13/04/2016
    S. Goodyear 13/04/2016
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    "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!

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anthony Sydney, Australia 19/01/2013
    Anthony Sydney, Australia 19/01/2013
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    "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.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mr 23/12/2012
    Mr 23/12/2012
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    "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.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amit Harrow, United Kingdom 27/05/2011
    Amit Harrow, United Kingdom 27/05/2011 Member Since 2017
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    "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.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Fiona 13/05/2016
    Fiona 13/05/2016 Member Since 2016
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    "Just bliss"

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

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Howler HYDE, United Kingdom 07/04/2012
    Howler HYDE, United Kingdom 07/04/2012
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    "Five stars!"

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

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Paul Jones 20/05/2016
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    "Too ambiguous to enjoy as a story"

    I found the story utterly lacking in detail and therefore ambiguous throughout.

    For example we're told that Kurtz is an astonishing man of near unsurpassed brilliance, but we're given no detail whatsoever as to why. Consequently I found myself unable to share the deep respect and interest that every other character in the book seems to have for this man, at all.

    Granted there may be a number of individual sentences or passages that have great value to the English language for their construction, but in my opinion this is no good if they don't also serve to provide the detail necessary to convey a compelling story, which they don't.

    The narrator whispered too much and was over dramatic in places for my taste.

    About me, for reference: I love classic fiction for two reasons: first is the originality of the stories which are usually compelling, and second is the vocabulary and construction of language, which is so much more eloquent and attractive to me than modern prose.

    13 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    fishfanatic 06/04/2016
    fishfanatic 06/04/2016
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    "Very deep."

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

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Emmanuel Zakebam Buenos Aires 28/11/2016
    Emmanuel Zakebam Buenos Aires 28/11/2016 Member Since 2016
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    "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!

    9 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tom Rickmansworth, Herts, United Kingdom 13/04/2011
    Tom Rickmansworth, Herts, United Kingdom 13/04/2011 Member Since 2011
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    "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.

    14 of 19 people found this review helpful
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  • Darwin8u
    Mesa, AZ, United States
    21/11/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "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.

    41 of 46 people found this review helpful
  • Harold
    San Angelo, TX, United States
    11/12/10
    Overall
    "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.

    39 of 45 people found this review helpful
  • Sher from Provo
    Utah
    05/11/11
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "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!!

    25 of 29 people found this review helpful
  • Kyle
    Seattle, WA
    10/12/10
    Overall
    "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.

    53 of 65 people found this review helpful
  • Michael
    Walnut Creek, CA, United States
    11/06/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "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.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    07/12/10
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "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 38 people found this review helpful
  • Paul
    Gilroy, CA, United States
    24/02/11
    Overall
    "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.

    8 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • Daniel
    Chesapeake, VA 23322
    18/02/11
    Overall
    "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.

    11 of 14 people found this review helpful
  • mark
    blackburn VIC, Australia
    09/01/11
    Overall
    "Absolute joy"

    Kenneth Branagh must have been born to read this book. He is mesmerizing. Don't wait, get this!

    10 of 13 people found this review helpful
  • C.B.E.
    Colorado, United States Minor Outlying Islands
    17/05/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "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.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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