Our rating: 4 out of 5
reviewed by: Hannah Price
“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players…” This is what William Shakespeare proved in this tale of quirky comedy, mistaken identities, betrayals and romance. Critically acclaimed Shakespeare filmmaker Kenneth Branagh brings to life this slightly odd, but always entertaining tale, one of Shakespeare’s least known romantic comedies. Set in 19th century Japan and featuring an all-star cast, this film is a must see for any Shakespeare fan. Thought not one of Shakespeare’s best, or most original stories, it is an interesting tale all the same.
There is rebellion at the court of the wise and virtuous Duke Senior (Brian Blessed). After being overthrown by his villainous brother Duke Frederick (also Blessed), the banished Duke Senior is forced to flee into the nearby forest of Arden. Left behind and kept as a virtual prisoner is his only child Rosalind (Bryce Dallas Howard). Duke Frederick dislikes her presence, but lets her stay because of the deep affection held between her and his own daughter, Celia (Romola Garai). Raised together at the former Duke Senior’s court, Celia is Rosalind’s only comfort during the time of her father’s banishment. Rosalind soon falls in love with the young Orlando De Boys (David Oyelowo), who has come to the court in pursuit of his rightful inheritance, withheld from him by his eldest brother Oliver (Adrian Lester). When Duke Frederick learns of the love between Rosalind and Orlando, he banishes her from court. Celia however, refuses to be parted from her dearest friend and asks to be banished along with her cousin.
Celia disguises herself as a shepherdess named Aliana and Rosalind disguises herself as Aliana’s brother, Ganymede, and they flee into the forest of Arden along with the court jester Touchstone (Alfred Molina). Oliver’s anger and jealousy towards his brother soon turns his thoughts towards those of murder, and Orlando is also forced to flee into the Forest of Arden to escape death. He meets up with Duke Senior and his loyal followers, who have been living like Robin Hood and his merry men in the forest, and begins to write long poems and love letters to Rosalind. Rosalind, (disguised as Ganymede) finds these letters and eventually meets up with Orlando himself. Pretending to be an expert at curing love, she promises to cure him of his passion if he but promises to come and woo her every day. The story becomes more complicated when, after the discovery of Orlando’s flight, Duke Frederick sends Oliver into the forest after his brother. Add to this mix the shepherd Silvius, and his unrequited love for local shepherdess Phebe, a comedic love story between Touchstone and the local wench Audrey, and the melancholy Jacques (Kevin Kline), and you get As You Like It.
Content wise, this film is fairly clean. The opening scene features the overthrow of Duke Senior by Duke Frederick; it is intense but the violence is never graphic or gruesome. The only other violent event in the film is an attack on a prominent character by a mountain lion (he gets chewed up a bit, but the scene isn’t very bloody). Also, there is a sumo wrestling fight early in the film featuring some bare behinds. Touchstone and a shepherdess named Audrey take a tumble in the hay (literally), but are both fully clothed and nothing happens. Cleavage is present in several women’s costumes, particularly those on the rather crude Audrey. Besides that, there is nothing to offend, unless you find the gender bending a little hard to swallow. (How Orlando could believe that Ganymede is a man is hard to believe, nothing is done to make Bryce Dallas Howard look even slightly masculine.)
Unlike other Shakespeare adaptations, this one isn’t infused with sexual material like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, nor with violence and warfare like Henry V. Instead it is a sweet love-at-first sight tale, which concludes with one of Shakespeare’s rare happy endings. Also, the Japanese setting gives it a quaint uniqueness. All in all this is a faithful and slightly eccentric Shakespeare film featuring a talented cast of actors and sporting fantastic scenery, sets and costumes. A must see for anyone interested in Shakespeare.