As YOU Like It, Mr Branagh, But Certainly Not Me

Daily Mail, 21 September 2007
By Christopher Tookey

Verdict: Pop goes Branagh's film career

When he was still in his 20s, Kenneth Branagh was being hailed as the saviour of British cinema. Now, at the not-so-tender age of 46, his movie career appears to be over.

Every review of his latest film "Sleuth" seems to pan it, and his previous effort - his fifth stab at Shakespeare, "As You Like It" - has failed to gain a cinematic release in the U.S. It's being shown at only a handful of venues over here.

Why is no mystery.

It's a creative and commercial catastrophe, which makes his last failure, "Love's Labour's Lost", look comparatively competent.

For a start, he's transported the play to 19th-century Japan, which has nothing to do with the text and makes it look like an underbudgeted school production of The Mikado. Instead of the magical Forest of Arden, we get an obviously English shrubbery with Japanese features thrown in - including an unexplained, well-tended gravel garden (what is that doing in the middle of a supposedly wild forest?).

The piece has been cast with a similar lack of intelligence. Shakespeare's text makes mention of the differing sizes of the leading ladies, Rosalind being tall and Celia much shorter.

So what does Branagh do? He casts the willowy Romola Garai as Celia and the shorter Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind.

To play the 'sinewy' wrestler Charles, we get a blubbery Sumo wrestler. Another Japanese gets to play William, which makes the taunting of him by Touchstone (Alfred Molina) and Audrey (Janet McTeer) unpleasantly racist instead of funny.

The make-up fails to make Rosalind and Celia look any different as boy and rustic female from how they looked at court.

This makes Orlando (David Oyelowo) look stupider than he ordinarily would, when he fails to recognise them.

Branagh's poor choices when positioning his camera continue to amaze. He ruins the 'All the world's a stage' speech of the melancholic Jaques, intoned by Kevin Kline with a lack of enthusiasm that suggests that by this point in the production he had given in not to melancholy, but to despair.

Not only does Branagh decide to shoot the speech in one long tracking shot which distracts from the verse, he also places Kline far away in the background; and for much of it, he is out of focus.

Branagh has never been much cop at directing actors, and many junior members of the cast seem all at sea with the language, rarely seeming to understand it and certainly unable to communicate its meaning to the audience. Howard is especially monotonous and inept. The actors who emerge with most credit are veterans such as Richard Briers and Brian Blessed.

Branagh has lost the Tiggerish enthusiasm that enlivened his first two Shakespearean efforts, "Henry V" and "Much Ado About Nothing", and he has learnt nothing from previous mistakes.

"As You Like It" is one of Shakespeare's most charming comedies, and I remember with affection an enjoyable London stage production of it a couple of decades ago, with Branagh himself as an amusingly vulgar Touchstone.

All these years later, Branagh makes Shakespeare's play look badly constructed, feebly characterised and totally unfunny.

Back to the As You Like It page | Back to Articles Listing | Back to the Compendium