TV Review: As You Like It – Outcasts In Love, Enter Stage East

Cinemablend, 23 August 2007
By Logan Scherer

Adapting Shakespeare is a doubled form of rewriting: most of his plays are reworked versions of established stories, taken from either fictions or history. Kenneth Branagh, who’s made reinventing Shakespeare his trademark, then, must have some interest in the excessively framed. That’s probably why he turned to "As You Like It", one of Shakespeare’s more self-conscious plays, that amplifies the typical comic hymeneal resolution to a ridiculous hilarity, for his fifth Shakespearean re-creation. Branagh’s "As You Like It", though, by taking the dramatic superstructure too seriously, strikes different chords that are less over-the-top and more reserved, which might’ve worked for the inward-obsessed Hamlet, but don’t suit the blinded-by-love crazies of "As You Like It".

Rosalind (Bryce Dallas Howard) falls in love with Orlando after he victoriously wrestles the fighter representing Duke Frederick – her uncle – who banished her father after capturing his land. Branagh, curiously highlighting events that Shakespeare merely acknowledges, spends just the right amount of time setting up the conflict that leads the hapless lovers and their followers into the Forest of Arden, a strikingly realized setting of rustic romance. Branagh shows us, however, that Shakespeare never meant his now-eternal all-the-world’s-a-stage metaphor (delivered in a monologue by Kevin Kline’s fantastically jaded Jacques) to be taken literally. The stage, after all, is a flat plain, and the world, though an amphitheater, is a round one. Branagh, directing obviously more-than-capable actors, gets performances that are just that: flat. Alfred Molina’s Turnstone is a delightful bundle of kookiness, but, unfortunately, he’s alone in his quirks.

Patrick Doyle’s enchanting score brings out the pastoral of the story when it’s needed the most. The music makes fun use of Branagh’s East-meets-West vision, but there appears to be no other explicit reason Branagh moved the play to 19th-century Japan (though the new setting does make for some eye-catching sets). Perhaps the image of Bryce Dallas Howard’s face behind one of those Japanese fans was convincing enough to warrant a location change.

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