As You Like It (2006)

Ken Branagh! Doing Shakespeare! Again! Can’t this guy take a hint? No-one cares! Take your pudgy little Irish mug and stick to the stage! You ain’t competing with Ben Stiller! What does it matter it’s his best film since Much Ado About Nothing, and that it’s warm, witty, and funny? Yes, he’s made a Shakespearean comedy that’s funny – truly radical. Branagh’s directorial approach since the masterfully shaped Henry V has been to throw his ideas at the screen and see what sticks, resulting in films as dazzlingly weird as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and as hit-and-miss as his Hamlet. He tries to hard – even here, the moments of fall-down-with-a-clunk slapstick are awkward. I could just hear the noises my old high school English class would have made when the characters broke out dancing at the end. But that’s why I love Ken. He’s the rare modern director who loves the outsized gesture, the big emotion, the rhapsodic camera – his style owes more to musicals than anything – and he’s much better at more serious or trenchant stuff; he wants his audience to feel something with operatic expansion. His handling of Adrian Lester’s soliloquy, as Oliver De Boys, is spellbinding, and so too is a long-take tracking shot of Kevin Kline’s Jaques as he delivers the “All the world’s a stage” speech. On top of this, his main conceit for the adaptation – resetting the play amidst gone-native merchants in Meiji era Japan – is beguiling but thin; surely it was for more than just to let Orlando get around with a samurai sword? Branagh's bold multicultralism is both refreshing but jarring. But really this shouldn’t distract from the sophistication of his handling – his handling of camera and his framings are fluidic and gorgeous, and most of the cast rises to occasion – I couldn’t help but get loopy about Bryce Dallas Howard’s Rosalind, Lester and David Oyelowo as Orlando are marvelous. But Alfred Molina and Romola Garai are badly served by being pressed, in playing Touchstone and Celia repectively, in broad, clunky comic style. So it’s a mixed bag. But many goodies inside.

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