Though our official review is in the reviews section, I wanted to address some of the points that came up for me personally during the sneak preview of As You Like It. It should be mentioned that the copy we were shown was on a DVD and the quality was sub-broadcast level. That being said, I'm looking forward to seeing some of the actors' expressions in the more visually complex forest shots (which were either blurry or digitally over-compressed) when it finally airs on HBO (in HD) in August.
The movie started off with a decidedly Japanese flair to everything. Complete with samurai warriors and ninjas coming flush out Duke Senior into the forest so his twisted-fisted brother, Duke Frederick, could take over. Brian Blessed did a fine job of playing both the brothers, Senior & Frederick (one in all black and one in all white, of course), convincingly conveying nuances of both. He looked so dissimilar in each role that surely those who didn't know him would never have suspected it was the same actor, despite going a bit over the edge on the good/evil stereotypes.
After the hostile takeover and subsequent banishment of Duke Senior to the Forest of Arden, the plotting cousins Rosalind and Celia to go in search of Rosalind's banished father (Duke Senior) and escape the sinister clutches of Celia's father (Duke Frederick). Bryce Dallas Howard and Romola Garai had nice on-screen chemistry and were enjoyable to watch as "sisters," Garai playing the comedic moments nicely. However, Howard dressed as a man is just too beautiful to be taken seriously and it needed a level of suspension of disbelief beyond what I was capable of. It made me wonder if her love interest Orlando was really stupid, blind or both not to notice s/he was a woman.
The brothers Oliver and Orlando (played respectively by Adrian Lester and David Oyelowo) were a great match and also top notch actors. In 2000, Oyelowo made history when he became the first black actor to play a major monarch at the Royal Shakespeare Company, performing the title role in Henry VI. Their fight scene was engaging and intense from frame one, and were always engaging to watch in every scene.
Kevin Kline was a suitable Jaques, but I found myself wanting even more cynicism and melancholy from a guy that's just so likable. The most well-known speech of the entire play Jaques' "All the world's a stage" was lost in the cinematography and botched camera work. Starting the camera from a long distance, moving in and around trees while getting closer and closer to Kevin Kline was an interesting approach, but the execution was distracting, even appearing amateurish and not well planned. A pity for such a great speech to be so wasted.
Even though it was supposed to be Japan, it was shot in England and it shows it. I liked the beautiful, curvy, low bridge running over swampy pond areas in the the Forest of Arden, but I kept wondering where it had it's place in Japanese design. Likewise, beauty shots near the end of the film were a bit out of place since fields of those types of flowers wouldn't likely exist in Japan. Even though the wrestling match worked well as a Sumo match, the film seemed to lose the Japanese flair after the first 15 minutes or so, descending into inconsistency and cultural fallacy, and reappearing with the wedding scene at the very end.
There was a lot of text cut out, including some of the better Rosalind speeches, in lieu of actors' expressions, camera angles or other modern "trickery." If the acting hadn't been so good, the film would have been barely watchable. Patrick Doyle's music is a bit reminiscent of some of the phrasing in Much Ado About Nothing, but not enough for anyone to really notice (unless they've seen it as many times as I have).
While this won't be the hugely successful film Hamlet or Henry V were, it won't be as unsuccessful as Love's Labours Lost. Branagh's films always do great things for "Shakespeare Awareness" in the world, but a few have come at a price.
Oh, and stick around after the credits for Rosalind's epilogue. It's kinda cute and it's Branagh's only line in the whole film. Screaming "Cut!" it leaves one wondering if he should have said it earlier in the film.
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