Watching Helen Mirren in “The Tempest” got me in the mood for more Shakespeare. I’ve loved Kenneth Branagh’s movie adaptations since his “Henry V,” which I saw in the theater four or five times, and I have been collecting his various Shakespeare movies on DVD. I hadn’t yet seen his 2006 version of “As You Like It,” so I obtained the DVD and watched it in one go.
This adaptation was very interesting visually; it was set late in the 19th century, when Japan had opened itself to outside trade, the idea being that these characters lived in one of the British trading outposts – there’s a little introductory commentary (“A Long Time Ago, in a galaxy far, far away….”) in the opening screens. This enabled a mingling of European costumes with Japanese ones. The only house shown in detail was a Japanese-style house with sliding paper walls. There are a few Asian actors in the production, including one of the couples in the Forest of Arden (Silvius and Celia). Charles the wrestler became a sumo wrestler (also an Asian actor). The sumo wrestler bit was amusing because Orlando, played by David Oyeluwo, is not particularly large next to the sumo wrestler, yet he has to win their bout. There was some close camera work obscuring how exactly Orlando managed it! There’s also a bit added before the beginning of the play, to show exactly how Frederick’s palace coup to depose his brother the Duke happens: he did it with ninjas.
I liked that Brian Blessed, with different hairstyles and demeanours, played both Frederick and the (real) Duke. I just love Brian Blessed in general, so this was an extra treat for me. I also got to see another favorite actor, Richard Briers, as Orlando’s servant Adam; his part in the movie is small, but he has one speech that just broke my heart. I surprised myself and teared up.
ADAM: Master, go on; and I will follow thee
To the last gasp, with truth and loyalty.
From seventeen years till now almost four-score
Here lived I, but now live here no more.
At seventeen years many their fortunes seek,
But at fourscore it is too late a week;
Yet fortune cannot recompense me better
Than to die well and not my master’s debtor.
I think, if one hadn’t previously read the play, the movie might be a little confusing on first watch, but maybe I’m wrong; if you see it without reading the play first, let me know what you thought.
A lot of the text was cut, as is usual in movie versions of Shakespeare plays. I think some scenes are rearranged, to make the progression of events more clear (I am not that deeply familiar with the play). The whole thing seemed to go very fast, and had a nice flow to it, but I didn’t feel as involved with the subplots, even though all play into the Rosalind/Orlando romance.
I thought all of the performances were excellent (not really a surprise!). David Oyeluwo (Orlando) has the biggest range of emotions to portray, I think; I was with him all the way; he has one of those magnetic faces. (Many viewers know him from “Spooks/MI-5”; he’s currently starring in Red Tails, presumably playing an American.) Adrian Lester (a friend of mine loved him in “Hustle”) played his brother, which leads to a sort of Shakespeare in-joke, because Oyeluwo has played Henry VI on stage and Lester has played Henry V…okay, not brothers, but I think it’s amusing. In a geeky way. Lester is also in Branagh’s movie version of “Love’s Labours Lost,” which I should watch again and write about, because it is one wacky adaptation; the play was made into a musical. With dancing. No, really.
Alfred Molina is, unsurprisingly, really good as Touchstone. Kevin Kline won a SAG award for his portrayal of Jaques, according to Wikipedia. Bryce Dallas Howard, an American, played Rosalind. To my American ear, the accent she used was not offensive. She, too, had a very interesting, magnetic face.
Overall, I recommend this, at least if you like Shakespeare! If you do watch it, make sure to stick around for the Epilogue, which was kind of cool.
One comment about the DVD: I was very disappointed in the limited extras. The accompanying documentary was more of a teaser; I don’t think it was even a half-hour long.