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3.7 out of 5 stars
As You Like It [DVD]
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2011
I should have been warned when I looked at the DVD sleeve, declaring that the play was written by Kenneth Branagh AND William Shakespeare - a bit of hubris that the gods of theatre rightly punished. The conceptual stuff was all over the place; it was supposed to be set amongst the European trading community in 19th Century Japan, but, once Duke Senior had been ousted by Ninja warriors, we went back to 16th Century Europe - well, England, actually, and a Renaissance court. The "Japanese" concept was just used to give some pretty sets, and litter the Forest of Arden with over-large Japanese love-notes.It also required the audience to believe that Orlando would best a sumo wrestler who only needed to sit on him to crush him to death! Oh, and it made for pretty wedding dresses - but what on earth was the point??? It didn't even do what it said on the tin!

The Blessed Brian - sorry, Brian Blessed - was believable as both Dukes, dark and light, but the forest itself was far too pretty, making a nonsense of Orlando's comment "I thought that all things had been savage here." Kew Gardens is probably more dangerous. Amiens' speech about Jaques mourning a wounded stag - a mirror of the usurpation by Duke Frederick of his brother's rights -is completely cut, and in its place, we get the short comment from Duke Senior to Jaques about hunting venison of - "I know you like it not." Worse, when they actually come to eat, the Duke lifts the lid of the pot to prove to Jaques that it is meat-free, turning the melancholy philosopher into a sort of 16th Century vegetarian hippy.

The "Seven Ages of Man" speech really did not work for me; it was filmed from long-range, Kline speaking away from his "on-stage" audience - none of whom appeared to be listening anyway, and Kline's Jaques sounded as if he'd need Prozac to get to the end of it. I am a huge fan of Kevin Kline's, but it is only when the camera zooms into close-up on the "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." that the shiver down the spine reminds you of what a superlative actor he really is. Despite the SAG Award, this production wastes him.

The performance that almost moved me to tears was Richard Briers as Adam - pathos personified, and utterly riveting. For the rest, Romola Garai as Celia very nearly out-acted Bryce Dallas Howard's Rosalind. But, all in all, it was a messy, conceptually confused, production; Branagh seemed not to have the courage EITHER to up-date it OR to retain the original time period. In the end, I was just glad I'd borrowed it, not bought it!
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54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Kenneth Branagh's film of As You Like It received a pretty cool critical reception as I remember. Amazon reviewers don't appear to be overwhelmed either. I came to it with low expectations but enjoyed it far more than I ever hoped I would.

Yes - the 19th century Japanese setting is a bit of a problem. It is hardy what one expects to encounter in this play. The (Sumo) wrestling scene is frankly comical - I don't think Shakespeare intended us laugh hysterically at this point! More worryingly, Branagh tries to carry the Japanese setting over into the Forest of Arden. The main problem is that this is one of Shakespeare's most English plays. There are more songs in this play than in any other he wrote, though few of them make it into the film. We only get one verse of Under the Greenwood Tree and that is sung to a faux-Japanese arrangement that I, at least, find too incongruous to swallow. A bit like eating sushi with roast potatoes and gravy! But Shakespeare was a music lover - he knew what he was doing. The songs are an integral part of the play's atmosphere - but not here. However, the famous Pretty Ring Time makes it in by the skin of its teeth. The film ends with a very fizzy and up-beat arrangement of the song - an arrangement which (thankfully) owes more to Lionel Bart than to anything from the Far East.

So - that's the bad news. The good news is that the Japanese setting, with its immigrant communities, creates the impression of a "melting-pot" in which all cultures have a right to exist. Thus, the roles of the de Boys brothers are taken by black actors. David Oyelowo's Orlando is fine. And Adrian Lester finds much more in the role of Oliver de Boys that do most actors. The Forest of Arden, for all its Japanese trappings, becomes a kind of Never-Never Land, where identities can change, characters can mutate and everything can be just As You Like It.

The other performances are all fine - or, at least, they gave me pleasure. Bryce Dallas Howard is a warm and engaging Rosalind, convincingly boyish in the forest scenes and well able to maintain the important sexual tension between "Ganymede" and Orlando. Her English accent is pretty good as well - though the mask starts to slip in the Epilogue. Brian Blessed plays both Dukes. His Duke Senior is a mellow, mellifluous performance which completely gives the lie to his popular stentorian image. And the small but important role of Adam is entrusted to the safest possible pair of hands, belonging to Richard Briers. Kevin Klein is a serious, introverted Jaques and Alfred Molina does what he can with the severely pruned part of Touchstone.

The film isn't perfect. But I was left feeling that certain melancholy happiness which good performances of this play never fail to inspire - a feeling much aided by the final chorus of Pretty Ring Time! I enjoyed the film and I am sure others will too. It is a version to which I will certainly return and I guess it will be many years until we have another film version to match it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Recently, I have watched a number of Shakespeare plays. I have enjoyed Branagh's productions.

Particularly the amazing Henry V [DVD], when he gives the famous speech at the Battle of Agincourt- "We few. We precious few. We band of brothers.' I liked the banter between his character Benedick, and Emma Thompson as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, and the romance between the two in Henry V.

I have also watched the BBC version of As You Like it starring Helen Mirren and James Bolam.

Now with As You Like It, Branagh movies it from its usual locale the forest of Arden in France, to Japan, and at the beginning introduces ninjas. In a nutshell, it's a love story and story of contrast between the courtly material life, and pastoral life, and when our main characters get disinherited or banished, they end up in the Forest of Arden living like Robin Hood in the golden age.

Rosalinde changes her name to Ganimede and disguises herself as a man, and her banished suitor Orlando does not recognise her. Now something unusual happens in the forest, people start wooing each other, and falling in love, Ganimede attracts the attentions of a local wench Phoebe, while Touchstone the magician has a thing for Audrey even if she is a bit of a slut. Allegedly. We also have a slightly melancholic philosopher Jaques DuBois (meaning Jack of the wood).

For me the Forest of Arden is like the superconscious mind, the magical place where all problems get solved, the forest of all possibillity. A greedy Duke experiences conversion at the forests edge, a wound from a lion instead of being fatal, becomes a catalyst for true love to unfold. In addition we have many memorable speeches and saying from the Shakespeare canon, particularly the seven stages of man speech, the seven types of insult, and other beautiful uses of language.

Perhaps best considered as part of a romantic comedy trio, which includes Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night [DVD] [1996], which features a young woman disguised as a man who falls in love with a Duke who is in love with a Duchess, who is in love with a man not realising he is Viola, the young woman. The third being Much Ado About Nothing [DVD] [1993].

As for Branagh's As You Like It, I found some of the scenes to have a certain crispness and vitality lacking in the BBC production, particularly the scenes between Touchstone and Audrey. I liked the ninja addition. At least one scene lost its meaning. In some places lines were cut.

I like the BBC production with Helen Mirren, which seems more true to the original text. James Bolam excels as Touchstone.

Overall I recommend Branagh's production for how he stages the drama, and the BBC As You Like It - BBC Shakespeare Collection [1978]for it's realism. Helen Mirren does an excellent job in the lead role. Certainly, if you are watching this for study purposes I recommend the BBC version, and if you are watching for entertainment get this version.

I did like the performance of Bryce Dallas Howard who can convincingly play both man and woman. If Orlando cannot recognise her in the Forest of Arden, then love truly is blind.

And remember, there are no ninjas in Shakespeare.

I think you will enjoy it, and I hope this was helpful.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2008
I watched 'As You Like It' with a shakespeare novice and fully expected them to hate it. They really enjoyed the film and in fact it opened the world to shakespeare that my friend probably wouldn't have even entertained the idea of before. It is enjoyable and the setting is lovely. I agree with the other reviewer that setting the film in Japan didn't quite sit right. Overall an enjoyable film and a good film for Shakespeare virgins to watch!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2013
Well the samurai setting is unfathomable for starters - a case of let's plonk ol' shakey in a different period/culture for the hell of it...just doesn't add anything to the original I'm afraid. The sumo wrestling? well still pushing it in my opinion.

The real issue is the editing and cutting of the text - it's actually quite confusing at times - especially at the start - it struggles hard to get into any sort of flow and even in the forest the flow just isn't there. It's rather dull and rather green and lush and...well that;s it...green and lush. There's just something missing here, which is not the case with Nunn's film version of 'Twelfth Night'.

Maybe that's the reason why this ply is often left unadapted and kept on the stage...it just doesn't make for a coherent film - at least not this version. Performances are generally very good tho not sure about Jacques, Touchstone or Charles the sumo! Such a shame that it fails to spark unlike Branagh's version of 'Othello', which is super.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2010
A bit too short, and frankly the idea of putting the story in 19th century Japan does not bring any good idea. Even with suspension of disbelief, it's hard to imagine a Japenes forest called "Arden", a Japanese wrestler called "Charles". The idea that the bad brother follows Japanese customs (down to the dresscode) as opposed to the good one who is still westernized is simply ridiculous. There's a nice trick in the film with fans, but you don't have to be in Japan for that.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 13 March 2011
Another Kenneth Branagh Shakespeare adaptation. This time, he makes the sensible decision to concentrate on directing, and leave the comedy to others. The result is a film that is charming and aesthetically pleasing, but a bit lightweight. The Japanese setting is beautifully presented, every scene has wonderful colour, but the setting doesn't really make sense. With long philosophical dialogue linked by a frankly bonkers plot, As You Like It is a difficult play to turn into a film, and Branagh is only half-successful. The performances are solid but not stella (with the exception of Kevin Kline who produces a fine Jacques). Much waving of hands and oscillating voices is okay on stage but film requires something more subtle. Romeo + Juliet and Titus Andronicus raised the bar on film adaptations of Shakespeare, and Branagh has been left somewhat behind. Still, there are worse ways to spend an evening than watching this DVD.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Every few years, Kenneth Branagh comes out with another Shakespeare movie (plus the Shakespeare-themed "A Midwinter's Tale"). The fluffiest and weirdest of his Shakespeare movies thus far has to be "As You Like It" -- the actors are simply brilliant and they handle the romantic disasters beautifully, but the ending is painfully twee and the Japanese setting constantly snaps you out of it.

The cruel Duke (Brian Blessed) has deposed his far nicer brother (Blessed in a different wig), and the ex-Duke has run off into the Forest of Arden. At the same time, a young man named Orlando (David Oyelowo) has been cast out by his cruel brother Oliver (Adrian Lester).

Then the Duke decides to exile his niece Rosalind (Bryce Dallas Howard), despite the pleas of his daughter Celia (Romola Garai). So Rosalind (disguised as a boy), Celia and the jester Touchstone (Alfred Molina) run away into the Forest of Arden the following night, and soon encounter the exiled Duke and his followers. So does Orlando and his faithful servant Adam.

Because of a previous meeting, Rosalind and Orlando are already in love. But not only does he not recognize her, but because she's disguised as a boy she's attracted the amorous intentions of a local shepherdess. And to make matters even more complex, Touchstone is in a love triangle of his own, and Oliver has stumbled into Arden as well. Is everything going to end well?

Think about it: it's Shakespeare with all its transvestitism, romantic tangles and mass confusion... but they add katanas and NINJAS. Seriously, how cool is that? Branagh sets the action in "As You Like It" in 19th-century Japan, which gives the movie a lot of its visual beauty but also is its biggest flaw -- it kept snapping me out of the movie to hear people talking about a Japanese forest as "Arden" or a sumo wrestler as "Charles." I'm all for fidelity, but would it have killed them to just change a name or two?

However, Branagh's direction is technically superb, with plenty of tense moments (the deposition of the old Duke) and plenty of hilarious humor (poor Orlando's horrible love poetry). The entire movie is swathed a gloriously lush, pastoral backdrop, filled with embroidered silk gowns, cherry blossoms, and exquisitely lovely forests full of languid outlaws and love poems pinned to trees.

The funniest parts involve the love quadrangle between Rosalind, Phebe, Orlando and Silvius, as well as Orlando's wretched poetry and Touchstone's mockery of them ("Winter garments must be lined,/So must slender Rosalind"). But the ending is a bit too painfully twee, and reminiscent of "Much Ado About Nothing's" flower-strewn danceathon.

And the actors are pretty much all brilliant -- Howard has both the beauty and the androgyny to play a perfect Rosalind, while Romola Garai is delightful as the flaky but loyal Celia ("I like this place! And gladly would waste my time in it!" she announces happily as she falls out of a tree). Oyelowo is warmly endearing (and very hot) as the much-abused Orlando.

And there are solid performances by Lester, an unusually low-key Blessed, a dour Kevin Kline, Richard Briers, and Alex Wyndham (first seen lying in a boat yelling at the sky). The only downside is Alfred Molina, who gives a solid performance as Touchstone... but I simply couldn't focus on anything but his hair. It's hypnotically bad.

"As You Like It" is a puffy little wisp of a play, compared to Shakespeare's other works -- and while the Japanese setting kept snapping me out of the movie, Branagh does a solid job.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2013
Isn't it wonderful to know we have Kenneth Branagh, who knows better than Shakespeare. Scenes are rearranged, huge chunks are missed out, it is set in Japan - why? With Sumo wrestling - why? When we first meet Rosalind and Celia they talk behind fans so that you can hardly hear a word they say - why? If we start listing faults we'll be here all day, but one example; in 'Would he not be a comfort to our travail?' travail is rendered 'travel' - why? but I was forgetting, Branagh knows better than Shakespeare. This is a truly abysmal production. Don't waste your money!

PS It seems I have to give it a star to move on. Personally I don't think it is worth even one.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 1 March 2008
This is definitely a film for Shakespeare lovers, but not Japan lovers. As always, Kenneth Brannagh does justice to this great bard, but not unfortunately to Japanese culture. It's an interesting concept, setting this play in a trading enclave in feudal Japan, and may have worked if more was made of it, rather than just alluding to it with predictable and ill-informed cultural cliches. Good Shakespearean preformances by some heavy-weight regulars, but not enough to live up to my expectations of the film's use of its supposed Japanese setting.
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