"As You Like It"
Kenneth Branagh’s latest Bard outing with ninjas and kimonos, reminds our correspondent of an ad for air freshener

The Times, 20 September 2007
By Wendy Ide

Kenneth Branagh has carved out a reputation for making accessible, starry Shakespearean adaptations. And deservedly so – his "Hamlet" was a heavyweight triumph and his "Much Ado About Nothing" had a sassy, screwball vitality and a giddy pace. But faced with "As You Like It", one of the Bard’s more tiresome plays, Branagh’s direction loses conviction and his storytelling lacks the engaging enthusiasm of his previous Shakespeares.

On paper the film reads like a winner. Bryce Dallas Howard and Romola Garai star alongside Branagh regulars Brian Blessed, Adrian Lester and lovely old Richard Briers, who wrings more poignancy from his few lines than you could find in a particularly tragic episode of "Animal Hospital". But, however good the cast, this adaptation is patchy, the comic interludes sitting awkwardly with the romantic drama like wedding guests who came in fancy dress.

Branagh transposes the action to late 19th-century Japan, a time when foreign traders set up there own little feudal settlements. This gives the opportunity for a bout of sumo wrestling, a ninja attack and some nice kimonos – none of which are things which are generally associated with Shakespeare. For me, the Japanese setting is a distraction, a narrative stunt that is soon forgotten once the main body of the story relocates to the Forest of Arden. The only concession to Japan in the forest is a rock garden.

To create the look of Arden, Branagh fills the countryside with flowers. Coy bluebells and tumescent bracken fronds evoke the spring of new romance; every shot is positively bursting with symbolic fecundity. It’s all rather reminiscent of an advertisement for air freshener.

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