Love's Labour's Lost: Berlin Film Festival articles

February 15, 2000

Dancing with Shakespeare: Branagh waits on audience response (APG Wire)

British actor-director Kenneth Branagh said Tuesday he was waiting to see how audiences reacted to his turning Shakespeare's "Love's Labours Lost" into a screwball musical comedy before deciding whether he would continue adapting the Bard to the screen.

The Shakespeare veteran -- "Henry V", "Much Ado about Nothing" and "Hamlet" have already been given the Branagh big-screen treatment -- said he felt it had been a "bold step to do an obscure Shakespeare comedy as a musical" and he wanted to see how it fared before deciding what to do next.

The Branagh "Love's Labours Lost", featuring music by George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, was screened out of competition in the Berlin Film Festival.

The original text had been "shortened but respected," Branagh said. This was a major contrast with his 1996 four-hour "Hamlet" in which he transposed the entire text uncut -- a rare feat, even in the theatre.

Branagh said he made films of Shakespeare plays "probably because many audiences find it difficult to see Shakespeare in the theatre."

He thought the films might well inspire people to go to see Shakespeare preformed live. "Hopefully it can work both ways, and Shakespeare can travel a bit further in film."

US actress Alicia Silverstone said that working with Branagh had been a great experience for her.

"I was shocked when he told me he wanted me to play a French princess in the film. I thought he had lost his mind."

But she hoped to have other opportunities to work with him. "Sometimes in cinema you wonder why you're doing what you're doing, as an actor. But with him you know exactly what you're doing. ... I want to work with him again and again and again."

Branagh: Bold Twist on Shakespeare (AP Wire)

Kenneth Branagh says his latest twist on Shakespeare was a bold step, especially for his backers. ``It was very courageous of them to do an obscure Shakespeare comedy as a film musical,'' he said Tuesday after ``Love's Labor's Lost'' was screened at the Berlin Film Festival. Branagh directed and stars in the film.

The original text of the play is interwoven with music from Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Cole Porter. Branagh said the film is a ``fluffy, boy-meets-girl story,'' updated to the 1930s and emulating the screwball Hollywood comedies of the era.

Branagh's co-stars include Alicia Silverstone and Nathan Lane, the only one with musical theater experience.

``I tried not to let them drag me down,'' Lane joked at a news conference. ``No actually, I thought everyone did a terrific job. I didn't feel embarrassed at all.''

Branagh makes song and dance about Shakespeare (Reuters)

It's 1930s Hollywood. William Shakespeare, the hottest screenwriter in town, is knocking 'em dead with his latest production -- the all-singing, all-dancing ``Love's Labour's Lost.''

At least that is the premise behind British actor-director Kenneth Branagh's bid to turn one of the Bard's lesser-known romantic comedies into a boy-meets-girl story with Fred Astaire dance routines and a soundtrack by Cole Porter.

``I just loved the songs of this period,'' said Branagh after the world premiere in Berlin of his latest interpretation of Shakespeare for the big screen. ``They seem to go perfectly with the subject matter of this play.''

With Branagh, the courtly rakes of the original become swanky lounge lizards. Their pledge to avoid the pleasures of the flesh for three years crumbles with the appearance of a bevy of aristocratic beauties dressed in glitzy Cyd Charisse gowns.

Interspersing original Shakespeare text with period tunes by George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, the film uses all the set-pieces of the era, including the synchronised swimming sequence that was de rigeur in the bigger productions.

``I love the utter silliness and excessiveness of those swimming pool routines,'' said Branagh, who starred opposite Alicia Silverstone.

Following a string of productions by Branagh of Shakespeare plays -- including Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V -- the film is bound to stir controversy as to whether such treatment actually works, not least in Britain.

Others have also turned to the Elizabethan playwright for material recently, including the visually stunning William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet by Baz Luhrmann.

Critics observed that Shakespeare, writing for the spartan stage of London's Globe Theatre, built into his text elaborate verbal cues to the audience that are simply redundant in film.

While using the Shakespeare text, Branagh attempts to get round this by editing down the original. And when the characters tire of their lines, they just burst into song.

Filmed after only three weeks of rehearsals with a cast little experienced in musicals, some of the song and dance numbers can look a little raw: ``None of us are Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers,'' Branagh admitted.

But he rejected suggestions of an artistic sell-out in a bid to go for mass audience appeal: ``I don't feel enslaved to the idea of making something popular, it's whatever makes it good.''

Cheek to Cheek With Shakespeare (Press Association)

Kenneth Branagh's latest Shakespeare film offers the bard with a twist: original text interwoven with music from Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Cole Porter.

Branagh, who has previously brought plays like Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet to the silver screen, admits that his latest project was a "bold step," especially for the producers backing it. "It was very courageous of them to do an obscure Shakespeare comedy as a film musical," he said. "We'll see how Love's Labour's Lost fares."

Branagh said, however, that he doesn't feel "enslaved" when making a film to make sure it makes money. "The idea is to make it good," he said.

The director describes the film, which is being screened at the Berlin International Film festival, as a "fluffy, boy-meets-girl story," updated to the 1930s, and emulating the screwball Hollywood comedies of the era.

The musical-style pieces include Branagh singing Cheek to Cheek and Alicia Silverstone and her female co-stars performing Fancy Free.

Nathan Lane - one of the few in the cast with musical theatre experience - said he "had nothing but pity" for his costars.

"I tried not to let them drag me down," joked Lane, who has starred on Broadway in classic musicals like Guys and Dolls. "No actually, I thought everyone did a terrific job. I didn't feel embarrassed at all."

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