I was back in the Forest of Arden again last night, sharing a hearty laugh with Touchstone and the fair Rosalind. The evening’s entertainment was courtesy of William Shakespeare and director Kenneth Branagh, a pair of gentlemen whom I adore. I finally rented the new version of As You Like It (2006).
This is a fresh adaptation of Shakespeare. Branagh sets the play in nineteenth-century Japan, and the nobility within it are European residents of that island. Shakespeare is an amazing writer that way—you can set his plays in many different time periods and settings. I’ve seen Twelfth Night placed during the 1920s, and I’ve heard about the Othello played by Patrick Stewart where Othello is the only white in a cast of blacks. The one change makes a big difference in the play. I love Sir Ian McKellan’s role in Richard III (1995, Richard Loncraine). That version is firmly placed in the fascist era.
I wasn’t particularly fond of the Japanese setting here, but that’s a personal preference. I found the sumo wrestling to be an odd touch, but the reminders of Zen fit the reflective mood of the play very well. Many of the older shepherd’s lines are very much like Buddhist teaching stories. The forest settings were gorgeous, and reminded me once again of how drawn I am to all things sylvan.
Branagh picks talented actors and this time was no exception. The cast was very well-chosen. Kevin Kline was particularly notable as a melancholy Jacques—he played the part with a less monotone character than many I’ve seen. Alfred Molina was a charming Touchstone, his wispy-high hairdo making him look very much the fool without any asses’ ears or motley.
One of the joys about modern Shakespeare movies is that they are no longer filmed stage plays. This adaptation makes great use of the medium. The epilogue was particularly delightful, but I’m going to leave you to discover it for yourself. If nothing else, you should watch the movie for the original play’s language and sense of fun. I am going to end today the way that Shakespeare does—when I make curtsy, bid me farewell. (Exeunt)
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
86. Go rent As You Like It and see what you think. Alternatively, tell a friend about a movie that you love. Why should they see it?