As You Like It

Director: Kenneth Branagh

All the world may indeed be a stage but when it comes to the plays of William Shakespeare, the stage is best replaced by cinema, especially when the work in question is adapted by passionate, innovative scholar Kenneth Branagh. As he did with the twentieth century musical backdrop for Love’s Labour’s Lost, Branagh made the intriguing decision to change the setting of As You Like It to nineteenth century Japan which found British inhabitants and other profiteers setting up mini-empires in their adopted land. Noting in the DVD featurette that he now feels more comfortable moving scenes around for the best effect, As You Like It begins with a cinematically impressive and surprisingly violent opening that finds the home of the Duke Senior raided by Duke Frederick, sending Senior and others into the Forest of Arden. With her faithful cousin Celia (Romola Garai) in tow, Senior’s daughter Rosalind (a completely convincing Bryce Dallas Howard) poses as a boy named Ganymede after falling in love with the dashing Orlando (David Oyelowo). Of course when the girls come across Orlando, this leads to more delightful, romantic scenes of mistaken gender identity courtesy of the Bard and while Branagh’s work never comes close to his master comedy Much Ado About Nothing, it’s a visually stunning and emotionally positive adaptation that brings out the best in not only his lead actors but also supporting players such as Alfred Molina, Janet McTeer, Kevin Kline, Adrien Lester and others. The Shakespeare Film Company production crafted for HBO in 2007 has just been released on DVD and it makes a wonderful companion piece to Branagh’s other adaptations, not to mention a must for high school students just becoming acquainted with the Bard’s plays.