Shakespeare, Film, and Kenneth Branagh - A Retrospective
Original Air Date
April 27, 2011
Brows Held High
[Brows Held High intro]
[Fade to Oancitizen reading "The Arden Shakespeare: Complete Works"]
Oan: Yes, of course you need a prostitute who's heart is so golden she can convert people in one afternoon. God, fuck this play! [Slams the book, places it down, and notices the camera.] Ahh, welcome to Brows Held High. Well, April the 23rd has come and gone and I'm sure you all celebrate that day with all the pomp and... Oh, what's that? You don't celebrate April 23rd? Well, you should because that's the day internationally recognized as the day William Shakespeare [Says the name in a sophisticated English accent] was born.
Oan [v/o]: William Shakespeare is of course the greatest writer in the English language. George Bernard Shaw accused his peers of "Bardolatry" for word spitting him so much. But a century later, Harold Bloom suggested that there should actually be a religion surrounding The Bard of Avon.
Oan: And why not? His words are powerful enough to be quoted by absolutely everyone.
[Cut to a clip from "Chimes at Midnight," an adaptation of Henry IV]
Falstaff: We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow.
[Cut to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Menage a Trois"; Captain Piccard recites lines from Shakespeare's sonnets. This one from Sonnet 141.]
Captain Piccard: I faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes...
[Cut to a video featuring Tommy Wiseau in a convention; he recites a line from sonnet 116.]
Tommy Wiseau: ...on tempests, and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark.
Oan: And if you lived through the late 20th and early 21st centuries, you're probably familiar with one of the most prolific Shakespeare quoters of our time... Kenneth Branagh.
Oan [v/o]: Oh, Kenny Branagh, a fine slice of Northern Irish ham, a man so over-the-top you can never expect that there was ever a top in the first place.
Oan: As a director, he could get away with some of the most uncommon accesses. And as an actor, he's singularly able to put every ounce of emotion in a line... whether it deserves it or not.
Oan [v/o]: Born in Belfast, trained by the World Academy for Dramatic Arts, his debut, Henry V, earned him Oscar nominations for both directing and acting in a lead role. And from that spectacular debut, he went on to adapt five of Shakespeare's plays. They are, in order, "Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing," "Hamlet," "Love's Labor's Lost," and "As You Like It." And yes, he was in "Othello," but he didn't direct it, so I'm not counting it.
Oan: And since it's Shakespeare's Day, I'm talking about them all. Oh boy. I won't do the usual play-by-play of these films because we've all read over Shakespeare since middle school and we all know the plays back and forth. In case you need a refresher... [inhale]
[Breaks into song recapping all of Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare films; the melody is from William Tell Overture]
The, King of all England's Henry Five,
And from all the French he got some jive,
And after that burn he did contrive,
For all of their lands from them deprive.
Benedick and Beatrice bitch a lot,
But all of their friends decide to plot,
To get them together and tie a knot.
Don Jon screws it up, but he gets caught.
Hamlet's dad is dead,
The son start seeing red,
So he tries to kill his uncle,
But the whole thing gets all bungled
And he ends up killing everybody else instead.
Four couples all get crossed,
But there's an awful cost,
When the war comes a-knockin',
And the worlds start a-rockin',
And it's a hard-earned love's labor's lost.
The duke usurps his bro and then,
They flee to the forest of Arden,
Two girls go and dress up just like men,
And I think this bit will come to an end.
[Cut back to Oan. Exhale. Oan takes a bow.]
Oan [v/o]: A few general notes, with the exception of the history play, of course, Branagh really likes to set the play up a few centuries, usually to a Romantic Era to make it feel slightly more modern. Where it works and doesn't work will be addressed later. He also has a thing for color-blind casting. Sure, why not cast Denzel Washington as Keanu Reeves's brother? [Caption: "Well okay, half-brother"] It's the same kind of honorable progressivism that would later piss off Odin-worshiping racists when he cast Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor.
Oan: But hey, the more annoyed the racists get, the happier all of us with brain stems are, right?
Oan [v/o]: He's also a big fan of the long take, which I'm almost certain to point out as they come and make comparisons to the opening shot of "Touch of Evil" and all that.
Oan: And also, as a director, he has something that most in Hollywood would give all their cocaine to have... Clout.
Oan [v/o]: Pretty much every movie of his can boast an all-star cast. Just look at his first film's lineup. Henry V had Derek Jacobi, Richard Briers, Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane, Paul Scofield, Little Baby Batman [Christian Bale], Ian Holm, Emma Thompson, well she was his wife at the time, so she was easy to get a hold of I suppose, and, of course, Brian Blessed.
Oan: Or, as he's known to his fans... [Gets closer to the camera] BRIAN BLESSED!!!
[Cut to Blessed at "Have I Got News for You"]
Blessed: GORDON'S ALIVE!! YES!!
Oan [v/o]: But sadly, he's generally much more restrained in these films. Oh, he's giant and jolly, but he has none of the campy bombast of his Blackadder days. Oh, but let's just get back to the film itself. There are some questionable choices such as Derek Jacobi's chorus, not that he doesn't deliver the lines beautifully.
Chorus: O, for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.
Oan [v/o]: But it's still rather odd to see a guy in a dress code walking around amidst all these Fifteenth Century shenanigans. Plus, it's odd to refer the sound stage he's on as "a wooden O." But that's Shakespeare's own fault for including such a site-specific and self-deprecating introduction. When he has a huge epic war story and he starts off the play by saying, "Um sorry this play sucks so much. We did what we could. Don't hate me." Plus, being a film pretty much negates the role of the chorus entirely. In a film, you can shoot on location easily and you don't have to imagine things. While in Shakespeare's day, you had a uniform stage and the characters had to go, "So, we're in Birnam Wood alright. Sure is nice here in Birnam Wood," and all the audience could do is think...
Oan: Yep, Birnam Wood.
Oan [v/o]: But that's a problem with any medium transfer, so I won't get hung up on it, especially because it does a lot right. Yes, Branagh nails the Crispin's Day speech, even if he does let the score speak for him at times. Just listen to the string section.
Henry V: Whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day!
[Crowd of armored men cheer. Caption: "The conductor's having a seizure!"]
Oan [v/o]: It's well-performed, well-shot, and sets the tone of the war perfectly. Unlike Olivier's version, made in 1944 when the English were quite happy to sing about the praises of going to Europe and showing the continentals what for, Branagh's was made in 1989, when the British were reeling from the sad and pointless conflict in the Falklands. As such, the leadup to war is treated with utmost severity, the battle shot with blood, fire, and mud, mud in particular. And if you know anything about the Battle of Agincourt, you'll know how important mud was in securing English victory. And there's even plenty of gravity brought to the scene where Henry decides to hang a childhood friend for looting a town against his orders. And one of the most brilliant decisions Branagh decided to do, in my opinion, was to include flashbacks to Henry IV. The Henriad, as the plays about his time is even called, are essential to fleshing out Henry of Monmouth. Shakespeare's audience would have been well-aware of the character of Prince Hal, as he was called in Henry IV, and his character arc. Hal spent his youth fraternizing with rogues and ruffians, including one of Shakespeare's most famous characters, Sir John Falstaff, whom he befriends but ultimately abandons.
Falstaff: Banish plump Jack and banish all the world.
Henry [v/o]: I do ... I will....
Falstaff: But we have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Henry.
Henry [v/o]: I know thee not, old man.
Oan [v/o]: So, it would have been devastating for Shakespeare's audience to see the scene where his old friends mourn Falstaff's departure. It would also have moved them to see the youthful Hal slowly turn from a roguish barfly into a chivalrous king, a chivalrous king goes onto war for tennis balls, kills old friends out of principle and threatens to put babies at the end of his damn spears.
Henry: Your naked infants spitted upon pikes, whilst the mad mothers with their howls confused do break the clouds!
Oan: And another dead baby scene narrowly averted.
Oan [v/o]: And since Branagh includes that angle, his Henry turns into something of a coming-of-age story, as well as a world-weary war film, and it is weary. As rousing as it is to hear the king tell the commoners that this day shall gentle their condition, when the battle's won, Henry doesn't lead a cheer, even if the lines pretty much ask him to.
Henry: [along with the caption] And to England then, where ne'er from France arrived more HAPPY men.
Oan [v/o]: And the real set piece of the film is not the battle itself, but its aftermath, with a great long take, and yes, I told you I would come to a long take, of the bloody Henry of Monmouth carrying the corpse of Little Baby Batman across the devastating field with that brilliant hymn by Patrick Doyle ending with ... a goofy little romantic Meet Cute scene between the dorky Welshman and the pretty French girl who he has a crush on. The Bard has written much better endings.
Oan: Of course, that's not to say that Branagh and Thompson don't have good onscreen chemistry, which someone probably noticed. Which is why his next Shakespeare film has it brought front and center.
Oan [v/o]: And it's in "Much Ado About Nothing" that Branagh really starts showing his taste for the slightly silly. Sure, have your male characters fist-pump the title into gear. And why not start the film with a scene of people bathing that's homoerotic twice over. And why not include scenes of you and your wife frolicking like you're in a commercial for Maxipads. But, this is afterall a comedy, so this is all on par for the course. He's also surrounded by another great cast: Richard Briers, of course, Brian Blessed, of course, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, Ben Elton, Robert Sean Leonard, pre-fame Kate Beckinsale,.... Keanu Reeves.
Oan: Hmm.... Well, they're marketable at least.
Oan [v/o]: But the real star of the film, even more than Branagh, is Emma Thompson.
Oan: *sigh amorously*
Oan [v/o]: She's always been a smart, witty performer, but it's in the role of Beatrice that she really shines. Her dry wit, her mastery of wordplay....
Benedick: Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.
Beatrice: A bird in my tongue is better than the beast of yours.
Oan [v/o]: Her personal strength, her buried sadness...
Beatrice: I beseech your grace; pardon me: I was born to speak all mirth and no matter.
Oan [v/o]: Her bright eyes, and the brains behind them and OH MY GOD, EMMA, BE MY BRIDE!!
Oan: Oh sorry, sorry, that's uh... that's not like me. I'll keep that to a minimum for now on.
Oan [v/o]: But she really is the highlight of the whole film. And her banter with Branagh is easily worth the watch. Add to that, the knowledge that you're watching a real-life couple who really did have this level of intellectual and personal meshing in real life makes the banter crackle even stronger, even if they did divorce soon after. So yes, this film has something in common with Gigli. The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Robert Sean Leonard as Claudio and Kate Beckinsale as Hero are pretty, but fairly forgettable, characters. But that's kind of the point. The play hinges on getting this boring couple together as an engine to drive the far more interesting characters into more and more trouble in the set of going back to Commedia dell Arte, so I can't fault the actors for being given stock characters. Denzel Washington, fresh of his triumph as Malcolm X, is strong and charming as Don Pedro. He's remarkably comfortable with Elizabethan prose and gives his character an affable strength, even if it wouldn't make sense for a man with African descent to ride such prominent position in nineteenth century Europe with all its imperialist racist glory. But hey, he's a fine actor and I'm glad he's here. Another cast member who shines in this film is Michael Keaton, as the clownish, dim-witted lawman, Dogberry. [in the scene where Dogberry gallops with Verges, a caption appears "A Monty Python reference would be too obvious."] There's something truly inspired about casting a veteran scene-stealer like Keaton in the role.
Dogberry: Marry, sir. They have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.
Oan [v/o]: Shakespeare wrote great many fools in his works and few are more foolish than Dogberry and Keaton really delivers, pouring his Beetlejuice-iest mannerisms into the meaning of the role.
Dogberry: But masters, remember that I am an ass; though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass.
Oan: And then ......... Keanu Reeves.
Don Jon: I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace.
Oan: ...... What? What do you expect me to say?
Borachio: And I can give you intelligence of an intended marriage.
Don Jon: Will it serve for any model to build mischief on?
Oan: Keanu Reeves doing Shakespeare. You can probably write your own jokes about that.
Don Jon: It must not be denied that I am a plain-dealing villain!
Oan [v/o]: But thankfully, his Don Jon is generally put to the silence for the most of it, so he doesn't hurt the proceeding as much as he could have.
Don Jon: I am not of many words.
Oan [v/o]: And thank god for that. The film also looks great, with Branagh taking full advantage of the beautiful Tuscan setting, Tuscany, even though the play is set in Messina, Sicily, but whatever. And taking a cue from his last film, he ends it all with another long shot set to a song by Patrick Doyle, all blaring trumpets and "hey nonny nonny."
Hymn: Hey, nonny nonny.
Oan [v/o]: But for all of those great spots, Much Ado About Nothing feels rather rote. The film often feels like it's pandering to middlebrow sensibilities with its pastoral, generally quaint stylings, though there is monstrous wit being put at nothing of great importance. It's not great Shakespeare, but it's damn good Shakespeare. And really, that's all it needs to be. It's a comedy, and comedy has to be accessible, relatable, and fun. And that's why I think it works.
Oan: Especially Emma Thompson. [mouth out "Call me" while making a telephone gesture]
Oan [v/o]: After a few other films, namely that silly version of Frankenstein, Branagh scraped together all of his resources and begged Castle Rock Entertainment to put on his dream project.
Hamlet: To be, or not to be.
Oan [v/o]: The key word to Branagh's Hamlet is ambition, ambition, ambition. This film is infamous for being cinema's only FULL Hamlet. Previous versions are trimmed and cut down to fit a more cinematic pacing, but Branagh used the full uncut text, taken from the First Folio with additions from the Second Quarto. Everything in the text is on the screen. The result is a two-part, four-hour monstrosity of a film that ought to serve as Platonic ideal of a labor of love. The sets are grand Rococo, the costumes high Romantic, the music the pompiest of pomp, with an aria from Placido Domingo no less, and the film shot in glorious 70 millimeter, the last studio film to do so, I might add. And Kenneth Branagh, of course, plays Hamlet, emphasis on "Ham," which makes sense. He is supposed to be playing a seemingly mad person.
Hamlet: Words... Words... Wor-r-r-rr-r-rduh-suh!!
Oan [v/o]: And while his energy on screen is welcome, at times it can be misplaced, like in the Mouse Trap scene. Yes, actors, speak the speech, trippingly on the tongue, UNTIL I JUMP UP ONSTAGE DURING THE PERFORMANCE AND YELL AT THE AUDIENCE!! Or at the end where he kills Claudius. Oh, do I have to poison him? Nah, that's boring. EAT CHANDELIER, BITCH!!! But as silly as it gets at points, it really does make him a fun and engaging presence in the film. I still think there are no duller Hamlets than the perpetually melancholy ones.
Oan: It's also in Hamlet that Branagh's ability to snipe big-name players reaches its absurd pinnacle.
Oan [v/o]: I won't bother listing how many big-names are in this one, just assured that both Richard Briers and Brian Blessed are here. But it's a damn impressive cast, so impressive that you get the feeling that Branagh was straining to cram people in.
Oan: Hey, Robin Williams wants a part!
Oan [v/o]: Oh, but we gave the gravedigger to Billy Crystal..... Eh, give him fucking Osric.
Oan: Hey, we owe French national treasure, Gerard Depardieu, a favor!
Oan [v/o]: Oh right! We still have to cast the guy who gets sent to Paris to see what Laertes is doing [Reynaldo].
Oan: Hey, Sir John Gielgud and Dame Judi Dench want in!
Oan [v/o]: Uh..... we ran out of roles....... Oh wait, um. You know when the Player King gives that speech about Hecuba and Priam? We can have them act that shit out.
Oan: Uh sure. Wait, who did we cast as the Player King, again?
[Cut to a clip from Wayne's World 2.]
Wayne: Can we get a better actor? I know it's a small part, but I think we can do better than this.
[Cut to Player King speech; spoken by Charlton Heston.]
Player King: Out, out thou strumpet, Fortune! All you gods in general synod. [Cut to Wayne smiling in the same scene] Bold winds speechless and the orb below as hush as death. [Cut to Wayne, moved] The instant burst of clamour that she made, unless things mortal move them not at all, would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven and passion in the gods.
Wayne: [in tears] Thank you.
Oan [v/o]: But the upside of this is that each actor is given a certain gravity when even the most minor characters are given great actors to play them. You really pay attention to the old dowdy captain of the guard Marcellus when he's played by Jack Lemmon.
Marcellus: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Oan [v/o]: And you really, really pay attention when the guy with one line who pops in three minutes till the end to deliver a single piece of exposition is played by Sir Richard Attenborough.
First Ambassador: That Rosencranz and Guildenstern are dead.
Oan [v/o]: But I think the over-inflation of the play's moments works to its advantage. It works when you make the play larger than life. One of the things most previous Hamlets focus on is the story of Hamlet over the plot. The story is, of course, Hamlet's struggle with uncertainty when faced with the monumental challenge of revenge against the king and uncle. But, with all the text left untouched, the plot of Hamlet really shines. There's a nation at stake, there's an invading army on the march, the court is riddled with intrigue and espionage, deals are made, alliances shift.
Oan: It's not just a single college kid struggling to get over his depression....It's The West Wing.
Claudius: Thou stil'st been a father of good news!
Polonius: Have I, my lord?
Bartlet: Leo, were you born in the age of fifty-five?
McGarry: I know that there's a dog.
Oan [v/o]: And Branagh uses every trick in the cinematic book to fully realize the world of Hamlet. Not just the words being spoken, but every aspect of the offstage action is brought to life. We see Hamlet with his father alive, we see the young Hamlet born on Yorrick's back, we see Fortinbras gathering his army while Old Norway looks on, we see Hamlet wooing Ophelia, we see Old Hamlet looking at Claudius's eyes as he dies, using the expansive nature of film to show things that Elizabethan stage couldn't. Branagh's Hamlet is an epic in every sense of the word. It's a very rewarding film, if you're patient enough to sit through all four hours. It's a living breathing film which realizes every aspect of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Despite the occasional forays into the silly, as far as I'm concerned, it's almost impossible to top.
Oan: Then, something happened. I don't know what it was. Maybe it was Wild Wild West, I don't know.
Oan [v/o]: But whatever happened, in 1999, Branagh formed the Shakespeare Film Company. As you would guess, it was to be a studio that devoted itself to daring and innovative adaptations of Shakespeare's works. And the following year, he did make a daring and innovative screen adaptation: Love's Labour's Lost.
Biron: His hair, and when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods...
Oan: Wait for it...
Biron: ...Make heaven drowsy with the harmony. Heaven...I'm in heaven [starts to sing] and my heart beats so
Oan: Aaand there it is.
Biron, Ferdinand, Dumain, and Longaville: [singing as they float up] Heaven, I'm in heaven
Oan [v/o]: It's a goddamn jukebox musical! He took a Shakespearean comedy and stuffed it full of Gershwin, Porter, and Berlin. Supposedly Branagh was influenced by Harley Granville-Barker's essay on Love's Labour's Lost suggesting that the rhyme scheme of the play gave it a musical sense of rhythm; ergo, he made it a Hollywood musical. Okay, fine, but he doesn't use the play's language for the music. He takes the play, and injects music numbers into it. He's using the same technique as Mamma Mia. And it's jarring, it's so jarring.Try as you may, the language of Shakespeare and the language of Irving Berlin don't mesh well. It's about as jarring as performing Glengarry Glen Ross like this:
Oan: [Acting as Ricky Roma] Where did you learn your trade, you stupid fucking cunt, you idiot? Who ever told you that you could work with men? Oh, I'm gonna have your job, shithead. [Abruptly starts singing] I am the captain of the Pinnafore, and a right good captain, toooooo.
Oan [v/o]: What's more, the language of Shakespeare, that musically-structured language that inspired him to make the play a musical in the first place, is pared back to almost nothing. While his completist approach to Hamlet worked epic wonders, he took the complete opposite approach to this film, cutting back huge chunks of the play to merely a fraction of the original script, and all to make room for things like this:
Armado: [singing and dancing with a champagne bottle] So tell me, why should it be true that I get a kick out of you.
Oan [v/o]: You can also tell that Branagh's losing some of that old clout. In contrast to Hamlet's star stuffing, Love's Labour's Lost has Branagh himself, Richard Briers, of course, Nathan Lane, Timothy Spall, um, Miss Marple, Alicia Silverstone, that guy from Bonekickers, Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, I mean, it gets sad. Not even Brian Blessed could show up! Maybe he was off climbing Everest at this point, I don't know. But this film as a whole is full of bizarre ideas. I already showed you the shot of them flying up to the ceiling, for one. Also, the choice to set the play on the eve of the second World War makes a lot of thematic sense; in the play, it's a frivolous piece of comedy until everybody gets swept up by a war, so it makes sense. Until you realize that Shakespeare set the play in Navarre, which is in Spain. And if there was any place in Europe that was a model for peace in the late 1930s [cut to THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR!!! text filling up the screen], IT SURE AS HELL WASN'T SPAIN!!!
Oan: And for all of Branagh's talk about the language of the play, he does some really weird things with it.
Biron: This love is as mad as Ajax. [Looks outside where a sheep keels over dead] It kills sheep.
Oan: [in disbelief] It-- it kills sheep...
Oan [v/o]: The reviews of this film were mixed to bad. It's defenders though it was quaint and inoffensive enough to warrant a look, but most critics panned it for being the bizarre failure of and idea that it was. It didn't bring the Shakespeare Company to its knees, not quite. Six years later, the same company, in conjunction with HBO films, leased their second, and to date the last of their adaptations: As You Like It, a pastoral comedy which is known less for its story, and more for a single speech.
Jaques: All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
Oan [v/o]: Instead of making a gimmick of being a musical, Branagh made a gimmick out of something entirely different. He set the play in Japan.
Oan: He set it in Japan. And why not? Worked for Kurosawa.
Oan [v/o]: The cast is fine. Richard Briers is back, as is Brian Blessed, but Branagh himself chose not to step in front of the camera this time. The biggest names besides Briers and Blessed are Kevin Kline and Alfred Molina, with Eraserhead hair, and there are good turns by Adrian Lester and David Oyelowo and our leading lady, Bryce Dallas Howard, who is actually quite talented and charming, when she's not being shoehorned into Spider-Man films as superfluous fanboy pandering. But this is something that annoys me. I'm usually fine with Branagh's colorblind casting, but here it bugs me, and I'm not talking about having an interracial couple as the lead in a historical setting when no one would have let that fly. David Oyelowo is a damn fine leading man, and he and Howard work well together. No, I'm talking about the cast as a whole. Here's my problem:
Oan: He set the film in Japan and none of the main actors are Japanese.
Oan [v/o]: Sure, Branagh explains it at the beginning, saying that English merchants set up expatriate communities in Meiji Japan, and I suppose it doesn't hurt thematically to move the Forest of Arden from France to Japan. It makes just as much sense to be attacked by a French lioness as it does to be attacked by a Japanese one.
[Cut to clip of Orlando saving Oliver from a lion attack]
Oan: William Shakespeare: brilliant writer, shitty geographer.
Oan [v/o]: But if you wanted to go with the Japanese setting, then why deprive some actor of Asian descent from a chance to put Shakespeare on his resume? You're saying this guy can't spin a sonnet? Come to think of it, if he didn't cast Japanese actors, why set it in Japan at all? The Forest of Arden in the play is meant to represent some kind of pastoral Arcadia, which could be any sylvan place of rest. It would make just as much sense to set the play in upstate New York, or rural India, or the Congo, or any place with a forest and a nearby city, so why Japan? Was it to get Brian Blessed in samurai armor? Was it to turn the wrestling match in Act I Scene Two into a sumo match?
Oan: Maybe Branagh just always wanted to film in Japan and take advantage of its natural beau -- oh, wait, I forgot. This was filmed in Surrey.
Oan [v/o]: And it doesn't help, but As You Like It just isn't one of the bard's best plays. Even the title suggests that he's phoning it in.
[In an English accent over a picture of Shakespeare] Well, as you like it. You want another damn sex romp in the forest, pfft, here you go. I got this drink waiting for me at the pub(?). I'm out, peace.
And whatever comedy is there, Branagh doesn't really take advantage of it. Well, sure, Alfred Molina melts some comedy out of his scenes, but the primary gender-bending set up at the core storyline isn't as comically exploited as it could be. Of course, in Shakespeare's day, having a man playing a woman playing a man was probably a lot funnier than just a woman playing a man. Plus, we're a lot less gullible nowadays.
Rosalind: I've heard and read many lectures against it, and I thank God, I'm not a woman.
[Cut to an episode of Blackadder]
Blackadder: You are a girl, and you're a girl with as much talent for disguise as a giraffe in dark glasses trying to get into a polar bears-only golf club.
Oan [v/o]: On the whole, the film's given a rather somber feel to it. Dull, in fact. It's all pretty, and quaint, and charming and lovely and well-acted and well-shot, and... dull. Still, it's miles better than Love's Labour's Lost. Plenty of critics, at least in America, thought this movie was his return to form. And I can see why. At times, you can see Branagh trying to recapture the success of his earlier films. The final scene is reminiscent of the grand dance at the end of Much Ado About Nothing. And the final shot?
Rosalind: It is not the fashion to see the lady in the epilogue, but no more enhancing than to see the Lord...
Oan [v/o]: An actor talking directly to the audience showing the artificiality of the film while simultaneously honoring the practices of the Elizabethan stage, which is precisely how we started Henry V.
Oan: Which seems to me like the perfect way to bring this retrospective full circle.
Oan [v/o]: Well, he's had his pitfalls, his moments of hamminess, and the tendency towards the ridiculous, but I like Kenneth Branagh as a director. Even in his bad moments, he's fearless. And his creative decisions are daring, and although they can be weird, they're almost never dull. But most of all, it's his love of the material that shines through, and it's his need to share that love that makes his adaptations of the Bard so open and accessible. Generally.
Oan: Kenneth Branagh is nothing if not passionate, and that's why I keep coming back to him. And why I hope he'll return to Shakespeare very, very soon.
[Cut to clip of Thor]
Thor: This drink, I like it. Another! [smashes cup to the ground]
Darcy: This is going on Facebook, smile!
Oan: .....Very soon.
[Ending credits song: Brush Up Your Shakespeare from Kiss Me Kate]