Much Ado About Shakespeare
by Scott Barwick
"I'm working with Woody
Allen at the moment," Kenneth Branagh offers matter-of factly,
"and I asked him the other day, genuinely, 'How the f*%#
do you direct when you're in the film?' And he says, "Well,
what are you talking about? You do it." And I said, "Yeah,
but now I just don't understand how. Maybe,'" adds Branagh,
"'a certain kind of madness takes over.'" "Though
this be madness, yet there is method in't," to quote Shakespeare,
which seems apropos since this is the man who starred in and
directed the first complete text version--running time four hours
and two minutes--of Hamlet, premiering next month on Showtime.
"In the case of Hamlet, it was so part of my blood. The
interpretation of the role was so interlinked with the interpretation
of the play that the two had to go together."
One kind of gets the same feeling
with Branagh and the Bard himself. Perhaps no one since Sir Laurence
Olivier has been so strongly associated with the playwright--credit
his naturalistic adaptations of Much Ado About Nothing and Henry
V, the film that started the resurgence of celluloid Shakespeare.
Credit, also, that he really thinks Shakespeare's for everybody--even
a Cold Hand Luke aficionado who can be so self-effacing that
when asked about bits of similarities between his translations
and those of Olivier, Orson Welles and Franco Zeffirelli, he
can state with a laugh, "That just indicates I've stolen
So why is Shakespeare for everybody?
"Like good music, he gets under the skin," says Branagh,
who turns 37 next month. "The stories are pretty timeless;
the characters are timelessly vivid. It's not amazing to see
the reason (the recent William Shakespeare's) Romeo & Juliet
had such an impact because the play has been havng that impact
for centuries, in the young particularly. It has a direct link
to their pre-occupations--sex and love and violence. There's
an inner heartbeat to that that won't go away."
Right now, the beat for Branagh
is for Love's Labour's Lost, the tale of young men who vow to
withdraw from the world, especially that of women, and end up
not doing so. "It's sort of a forerunner of Much Ado About
Nothing. I've been mulling for a long time about how to put that
on film. (Shakespeare) can be slapsticky, then suddenly take
your breath away with a beautiful piece of poetry."
But, Branagh admits, different
plays ring truer at different times. "It comes and goes.
Things leap out at you. People say things in plays that suddenly
make sense of your life at that moment. And they become very,
very, very personal."
There are, however, also constants,
such as his belief that Olivier's Richard III is "probably
the greatest Shakespeare performance on film. It's the cheekiest,
sexiest kind of thing." But, for Branagh, his favorite play
he thinks is Twelfth Night. "I tend to like the comedies
more. They make me cry. They're sort of melancholy and broadly
funny at the same time. And", he adds wryly, "they're
shorter, quite frankly."
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