If you think stuffy old Shakespeare could be livened up with some ninjas, Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet
, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
) has heard your call. Adapter/director Branagh has set the pastoral comedy As You Like It
in feudal Japan, where the characters are still British (they live in a community established by Western merchants) but now have reason to dress up in lush Japanese fabrics and engage in sumo wrestling. Due to a feud between two noble brothers, Rosalind (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Village
) is banished and ends up disguised as a man in a nearby forest. There she tests the faith of her beloved (and also banished) Orlando (David Oyelowo, MI-5
), who can't recognize her because she looks like a Dickensian ragamuffin.
Meanwhile, a variety of other star-crossed lovers romp around the forest and zen gardens, sparring about love and melancholy. Branagh, never a subtle director, takes every opportunity to squeeze in slapstick and action (like the aforementioned ninjas), but he also keeps the language clear and the movie is beautiful to look at. The strong cast includes Kevin Kline (who previously frolicked in a movie adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream), Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2, Frida), Romola Garai (I Capture the Castle, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights), and Adrian Lester (Hustle, Love's Labors Lost). --Bret Fetzer
Adaptation of the William Shakespeare play, brought to the big screen by Kenneth Branagh. Rosalind (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the daughter of a duke (Brian Blessed) living among a community of Westerners in 19th century Japan. When her father is suddenly banished, the frightened girl is forced to flee for the Forest of Arden lest she risk being executed by her malevolent uncle. Joining Rosalind on her journey to the forest is her sympathetic cousin Celia (Romola Garai), who helps to pass her incognito kin off as a man in order to avoid detection. Later, Rosalind's clever ruse begins to serve a dual purpose when she determines to use the disguise to gauge the devotion of another exile, Orlando (David Oyelowo).