Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Branagh Versus Shakespeare

Yes, there are some good things about Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of William Shakespeare's As You Like It, which had its first airing on HBO last night. Kevin Kline made the melancholy Jacques a far more interesting character than the usual stereotypes of him. His only down side was having to deliver the "seven ages of man" monologue as if it were a set piece that had little business being in the play (the splices on either side of the speech were practically, if not actually, audible); but, even so, he gave it an admirable delivery. He was also wonderful in playing off Alfred Molina's Touchstone; and Molina was not afraid to go over the top, particularly in his scenes with Janet McTeer's Audrey. Finally, lest I forget, Audrey's goat was definitely up there in the same class with Kline and Molina.

All the rest was a colossal mess, best called "ill seen and ill said," would that not involve ripping off Samuel Beckett. This was not strictly a matter of trying to set the play in late nineteenth-century Japan (after the country had been "opened"). After all, Kurosawa was as good at setting Shakespeare in Japan as he was at setting a John Ford Western in Japan; but, when it comes to making a film, Branagh is no Kurosawa. Yes, there are a few pratfalls that are good for a laugh, until you realize that Branagh just throws one in when he cannot figure out what else to do. Then, of course, there is the final song-and-dance after all the simultaneous marriages, running wild through the forest and sounding for all the world like the chorus behind Andy Williams singing, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." As a teenage girl said in a one-act play I once saw, "It's to barf!"

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