When sitting down to watch any of Kenneth Branagh‘s adaptations of the bard, you cannot avoid the first question: do I like this guy?
It’s like with Woody Allen. It’s very hard to separate the person from the film, and, even if objectively it’s a good movie, you have to come to terms with the creator.
Branagh’s done a half-dozen adaptations thus far with Love’s Labour’s Lost being the last of them in 2000. Then he kind of stopped doing them. Don’t know why. Don’t think he needed to stop, as he has a passion for the bard, but he stopped nonetheless.
Let’s look at that last film version, and see what we think of one of the Bard Brawl’s least favourite plays. The brawlers read through this one, and I think it’s fair to say no one really liked it. Reading and watching, however, are two different things, and there are many instances where one is superior to the other.
This LLL (that’s what we’re calling it because it looks cool and is 50-50-50 if we’re doing Roman numerals) is a musical and Technicolor style of the 50s or 60s complete with dancing set against the backdrop of the early days of the Second World War. If you don’t like musicals, you will not like this version. If you don’t like musicals, you may be missing something in life by the way. Just saying. Sing people! Sing on.
Here’s a taste.
Who would’ve thought the bard could be so sexy? (The answer to that, by the way, is: the brawlers did. We get it.)
Back to LLL.
The play involves three men who have cast off all worldly pursuits to lock themselves in a library for a year or something and dedicate it to learning. Girls show up, and dang if their sexiness doesn’t throw them all off their game.
Spoiler alert: you already guessed the ending.
Branagh’s version actually works pretty well. It shows how a play can come off as very boring an uninteresting when read, but then comes to life when seen on stage or screen. It was clever of Branagh to go the route he did and in so doing, he introduced the play to a new audience. I think. I can’t remember anyone seeing it when it came out.
Branagh’s immediate predecessor to LLL was Hamlet that he left untouched and filmed every single line. He got a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination that year, which is weird. LLL, however, he ripped up and put back together, and it works well. If I were teaching this play to torture my students or something, I’d show the film to reward the students for ploughing through the five acts.
Another fun thing about the movie is how much it proves stardom’s fleeting nature.
The film stars a whose who of who used to be hot headlined by none other than Alicia Silverstone. She’s a vegan now aparently. Oh, crushes of the mid-90s. Sigh. “As if” indeed.
Also starring: the guy from Scream, the guy from like four movies whose names I forget, the girl from that movie with Robert De Niro that proved to me that I shouldn’t make a special effort to watch his movies anymore, and Emily Mortimer. I like her.
In the end, LLL works. It’s funny, it’s charming, and it’s got all the box check items that are needed to make a decent Shakespearean comedy work.
Branagh is best when he does comedy. His Much Ado About Nothing is also very good, and his bubbly lightness gives an energy that the cast picks up on, and runs with.
When’s the next adaptation Kenneth? Have you forgotten your first love?