Film Review – Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)

Love's Labours Lost Movie Poster

It’s time for part two of my ongoing love letter to the awesomeness that is Kenneth Branagh doing Shakespeare. And in a truly impressive feat, he’s managed to take a play I didn’t particularly like and turn it into a film that utterly charmed me. So take a peak at the trailer below and then we’ll dive into the review.

This film very firmly sets itself in 1939 right from the opening credits, which have a very old Hollywood feel. Following the credits, we are treated to a pre-WWII style news reel (narrated by Kenneth Branagh, of course) setting the stage for the film. This clip and the following news reels that are used as transitions between most of the acts of the play are not in Shakespearean dialogue, but rather use all the delightful cadences of the period.

The casting is really well-done. Kenneth Branagh is as a delightful as always playing Biron (are we at all surprised that the character I liked is being played by Kenneth Branagh? I though not) and the cast of couples are all sweet and charming. I was especially happy to see Alicia Silverstone and Emily Mortimer, both of whom I’ve always liked. Nathan Lane plays Costard and is just a pure joy to watch. Also the guy who played Peter Pettigrew is Armado and makes him delightfully ridiculous.

Love's Labour's Lost

Nathan Lane is all about the comedy.

Now, in case you didn’t catch it from the trailer, this film is a musical. I admit, despite the fact that it was Kenneth Branagh who can do no wrong with Shakespeare, I was leery as I had a bad experience with a musical version of Two Gentlemen of Verona. But I needn’t have worried. Somehow the film manages to merge Shakespearean dialogue with the songs of the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter (among others) seamlessly and with a bucket load of charm.

Love's Labour's Lost

Yes, this is most definitely a musical.

While having four couples is still quite a few people to keep track of, the costumes provide handy visual cues. Each girl wears a set colour (red, green, blue, and orange) and her corresponding guy also wears that colour. If only picking someone to date were so easy in real life.

The sets are all beautiful. I particularly wouldn’t mind living in the library set, which is just gorgeous. Locales that are supposedly outdoors are also definitely sets, but it helps lend that old Hollywood feel to the film. And homages to iconic films of the period peak through every once in a while. One dance number has a very Fred and Ginger feel to it, there’s a synchronized swimming musical number, and one of the final scenes is a major tip of the hat to Casablanca (right down to the panama hats on all the guys). In the old film tradition as well, there is a fair bit of slapstick moments which all made me giggle.

Several scenes from the original play are cut out, which I think went a long way towards making me like the film much more than the play. However, if you’re a purist, there are 20+ minutes of deleted scenes on the DVD and you can watch the guys in Russian disguises attempting to court the ladies. I much preferred the rather sexy dance number to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”  used in its stead. Also, removing the rather long play within the play from the final act makes for a nice choice, especially as it’s replaced by Nathan Lane singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business” which is just amazing.

Love's Labour's Lost

Sexy dance instead of furry Russian hats? Yes, please.

The shift in tone in the final act is still very abrupt. Going from light and frothy comedy to the much darker pall that comes with the announcement of the king of France’s death is not an easy turn. However, it’s made less weird and in fact given a nice melancholy tone by having the four couples sing “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” as they part. The ending is also improved by another film reel of actual WWII footage intercut with shots of our 8 main characters being involved in various tasks (French underground, trenches, hospitals, etc). And we do get a silent happy ending, as the final scene is of our four couples celebrating together on VE day. Once again, Kenneth Branagh can do no wrong.

Love's Labour's Lost

We are charming even when we've rolled up the pants of our tuxes to go wading.

Next week we’ll be in the market for a pound of flesh with The Merchant of Venice. Until then, fair reader.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

"The Arrival of the Princess of France" - Thomas Stothard (1834)

The Play’s the Thing: The King of Navarre and his three friends, Biron, Longaville, and Dumain, have decided to take an oath that for the next three years they will focus on scholarly studies and swear off seeing any women and the romantic entanglements that come with the fairer sex (sounds a lot like going to grad school, really). Biron is a little reluctant but agrees to join the group of men in their oath. However, a minor exception is made as the Princess of France is shortly expected to arrive as an emissary for her ill father to discuss the disposal of Aquitain. After taking the oath, the local constable, Dull, arrives with Costard, a clown, who has been caught with a woman, Jaquenetta by Don Armado, a thoroughly ridiculous Spaniard. Costard is given into Armado’s keeping for a week while Armado oversees his punishment for contravening the decrees that exclude women from the King’s court. However, we shortly learn that Armado is in love with Jaquenetta and hopes to contravene the decree as well. Meanwhile, the Princess of France and her three friends, Rosaline, Maria, and Katharine, have arrived in Navarre and have been forced to pitch tents in a field a short distance from the King’s castle, as women are not permitted inside. The King and his three friends meet the Princess and her three friends to have the initial discussion about Aquitain. Predictably, all four men are very charmed by the four women. For reference’s sake, the King likes the Princess, Dumain likes Katharine, Longaville likes Maria, and Biron likes Rosaline. Armado decides to set Costard free so that he can deliver a love letter from Armado to Jaquenetta. On his way to deliver the letter, Costard encounters Biron who also gives him a love letter to be delivered to Rosaline. Unsurprisingly, Costard mixes up the letters and gives Armado’s letter to Rosaline and Biron’s letter to Jaquenetta. Biron heads into the woods to compose some poetry to Rosaline but then hides in a tree when he hears someone coming. The King, Longaville, and Dumain then all show up in succession each composing a poem to the lady he fancies and then hiding in the woods when he hears the next one coming. Eventually, they all admit that they’ve broken their vow already and have fallen in love. The four men decide to go in disguise to court the ladies and then return as themselves. The women hear of this plot and decide to mess with the men a bit and put on veils and switch up who wears the gifts each man sent, so that the men will court the wrong woman. The four men show up disguised as Russian travelers, the women act rather uninterested, and the men leave and then return. It is eventually revealed the men will have broken oaths twice as they broke their vow to abstain from women and then broke the vows of love that they made to the wrong women. News is then brought that the King of France has died. The Princess and her ladies must return home, however, each lady makes her respective man vow to do one task for the next year and if he succeeds she will then consider his proposal of love. And then the play ends with a song about cuckoos and owls (I kid you not).

Heroes and Villains: Biron gets my affection mostly because he makes the best speeches in the play. He’s got a sharp sense of humour and his verbal sparring with Rosaline is the best in the play. Armado gets honourable mention for writing some of the most purple prose in his letters that it’s entirely giggle-worthy.


  • Study knows that which yet it doth not know (I.i)
  • I love to hear him lie (I.i)

Speech to Know: Biron has some massive speeches in this play. The best is after the four men confess to each other that they’ve all fallen in love:

“But love, first learned in a lady’s eyes,
Lives not alone immured in the brain,
But, with the motion of all elements,
Courses as swift as thought in every power,
And gives to every power a double power
Above their functions and their offices.
It adds a precious seeing to the eye:
A lover’s eyes will gaze an eagle blind;
A lover’s ear will hear the lowest sound,
When the suspicious head of theft is stopp’d,
Love’s feeling is more soft and sensible
Than are the tender horns of  cockled snails;
Love’s tongue proves dainty Bacchus gross in taste:
For valour, is not love a Hercules,
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?
Subtle as sphinx; as sweet and musical
As bright Apollo’s lute, strung with his hair?
And when love speaks, the voice of all the gods
Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.
Never durst poet touch a pen to write
Until his ink were temper’d with love’s sighs:
O, then his lines would ravish savage ears,
And plant in tyrants mild humility.
From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain, and nourish all the world,
Else none at all in aught proves excellent.
Then fools you were these women to forswear,
Or, keeping what is sworn, you will prove fools.
For wisdom’s sake – a word that all men love,
Or for love’s sake – a word that loves all men,
Or for men’s sake, the authors of these women,
Or women’s sake, by whom we men are men,
Let once lose our oaths to find ourselves,
Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths:
It is religion to be thus forsworn;
For charity itself fulfills the law,
And who can sever love from charity?” (IV.iii)

View from the PitLove’s Labour’s Lost has a few moments of humour and brilliance but it continuously ends up being slightly off. There are too many main characters, making them difficult to keep track of and, with the exception of Biron, don’t really get the chance to speak enough to really make them strong and individual characters. Speeches tend to go a bit too long. Each of the interchanges between the four couples are the same thing over again in slightly different words. Armado’s overblown speeches and letters are humourous but there are just a few too many so that eventually they become tedious. And the curate and the schoolmaster (whom I left out of the play summary because they’re really not important to the plot) with their interchanges are tedious as well, especially with all of the Latin that they use. The five act structure feels a little wobbly as the last two acts have the bulk of the content, which is abnormal for Shakespeare. And the ending is extremely odd. There is no indication throughout the play that this will be anything but one of Shakespeare’s lighter comedies with the anticipated ending of four weddings. Instead we end up with just a funeral, with the promise of four weddings a year later. It’s an odd note to end on, making the play an unsettling read as it never quite hits the stride to be expected of a Shakespearean comedy.

Film Review – The Tempest (2010)

The Tempest Poster

Time to hop into the time travel machine and go back to the first play I reviewed at the beginning of this project because I finally got my hands on a copy of the DVD. So if you need to refresh your memory, you can take a look at my original post on The Tempest. Now, if you have all the crazy details fresh in your brain, take a look at the trailer and then move on to the review.

So obviously the biggest thing about this adaptation is that Prospero is now Prospera, which adds a whole whammy of gender politics to the fact that she was ousted from her dukedom and banished to the island. Helen Mirren does an excellent job of carrying the role, but I almost feel as though she hasn’t been challenged enough in the production. She’s wonderful as always, but not quite the level of awesome I’d hoped for. There are quite a few big name actors hanging out in this film, which makes for interesting viewing. I particularly liked Felicity Jones, who plays Miranda and does an excellent job of being of being both pretty while also keeping the character from being a bit of a limp prop. However, I did feel bad for her as she spends the entire film in bare feet and some of the locations do not look like they’d be kind to the feet. The actor playing Ferdinand is also pretty and the two of them make a nice couple and they also manage to keep the chess scene from being completely ludicrous.

Miranda and Ferdinand, The Tempest

We're just so pretty.

The costumes for the most part (ignoring Miranda who hangs around in very cute but thoroughly modern dresses) are Elizabethan with a twist. There are capes and doublets but of unusual fabrics, and when Prospera finally puts on a dress, it’s very proper but there are zippers all over it. The odd exception is Russell Brand as Trinculo who just appears to be wearing some of his regular clothes. It’s also important to note that Brand is the only spots of funny in the entire film, which makes him far more endearing than usual. A final point about appearance and then we’ll move on. The make-up for Caliban is gross, intriguing, and thoroughly creepy, which really makes a character whose essentially wearing a loin cloth, much more interesting to look at.

Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban, The Tempest

"Why do you decide to serve him? I'm the funny one."

There is no denying that the locations used for this film are stunning (unsurprising, since it was made in Hawaii) and really run the gamut from sharp coastal lines, weird desert-like spaces, and dense jungle. They play a tremendous role in making the weirdness that happens over the course of the film, far more plausible. The score is also a little different, with a heavy reliance on electric guitar which is an interesting choice for a Shakespeare film. It’s used really effectively during the storm scene at the beginning of the film but comes off as a little weird in the other places where it appears. The set design for Prospera’s “cell” is also really gorgeous and again contributes to the believability of the magic.

However, the best thing in this film is Ariel. The character is made visually intriguing by the effects that are used to show his movement (as you can see in the trailer), but he also varies in levels of transparency when actually visible to Prospera. While the actor does have to do some interesting contortions with his legs in order to keep man bits from sight in a few scenes, he’s intriguing to look at, and after Miranda and Ferdinand, is the most sympathetic character in the film.

Ariel, The Tempest

My hair is only one of the interesting things about me.

Visually intriguing but definitely on the weirder side. Probably best viewed only by real film fans or those really interested in seeing an adaptation of The Tempest. Also interesting from a feminist standpoint of having Helen Mirren play a role originally intended for a man. Shakespeare would approve, I think.

Prospera, The Tempest

Yes, I am awesome.

Back to the plays again next week when I’ll be talking about Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Film Review – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)

A Midsummer Night's Dream poster

Apologies for lateness on this post. The first DVD I checked out from the library was so scratched you couldn’t get to the menu. Luckily, they had another copy so we are not without some fun viewing. So take a look at the trailer and then continue on to the review.

The cast for this one is actually pretty impressive with a lot of big names, or people who I now recognize and love and had no clue who they were when this film originally came out. So let’s just go through the stand outs. Rubert Everett and Michelle Pfiefer make an excellent Oberon and Titania, with Everett using all of his brooding powers to his advantage and it takes no imagination at all to believe she’s a fairy queen because she’s just gorgeous. Callista Flockhart is Helena and she actually manages to make a character who comes off as a bit of a doormat on the page into a sympathetic character with some gumption (of course, that could just be the bicycle – more on those later). Anna Friel is Hermia (awww Chuck! before she was Chuck! And if you have no clue what I’m talking about go watch Pushing Daisies right now, Shakespeare would totally approve) and is of course adorable. She also rocks some pretty awesome hats. Christian Bale plays Demetrius and he’s all young and adorable and his look is a little reminscent of when he played Laurie in Little Women (which is a big part of why I love Christian Bale). Sophie Marceau plays Hippolyta (who in this film has lost the whole Amazon queen thing, sadly). Kevin Kline manages to keep Bottom from being too annoying and actually makes him mildly sympathetic which is hard when the character is such an ass (oh, I’m so funny). Last but not least, Stanley Tucci is Puck, which might seem an odd choice (or am I the only one that thinks Puck should be hot?). I actually went into this film (which I watched the first time when I was 12 or 13) convinced that Rupert Everett played Puck (I’m still convinced he could have done an awesome job with it too, based on his roles in The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband). But of course, Stanley Tucci is charming and sweet and knocks it out of the park like he always does.

Puck, A Midsummer's Night Dream

Puck and all of his charm

The first thing to talk about with this film is the time period chosen. There is some text just prior to the title card that puts the film in Italy (although the town is still referred to as Athens) “at the turn of the 19th century.” I find that phrase problematic (my brain thinks it means late 1700s-early 1800s) but that could just be my issues with numbers, so to clarify, the film is set in the late 1800s/19th century. There’s then another text card mentioning the decline of the bustle which has allowed for the increased popularity of that new device, the bicycle. And bicycles are used a lot in this film. All four lovers head off into the woods with one (although none of them leave with one, so apparently fairies really like bicycles). The costumes for the mortals are all really gorgeous. Even the guys have rocking suits (and they wear tails for the wedding!). The fairies are a little odder in dress but they must order gold body glitter in bulk because every single one of them wears some.

Oberon and Titania, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Oberon and Titania

The film deals pretty well with all of the craziness. They use cuts and some special effects to make the fairies more magical (when they go any great distance, they turn into tiny golden fairy lights). While it’s very easy to tell that “the woods” are definitely sets, they’re so pretty, you don’t really mind. My only big complaint with this film is that it literally has a chick fight in a mud pit. Hermia and Helena deserve so much better. However, when the two young couples are found by Theseus, they’re all naked which means there were some shots of Christian Bale’s abs, so I’ll forgive the mud fight. But just barely.

Four lovers, A Midsummer Night's Dream

That awkward moment when you don't know why you aren't wearing your clothes. Fairies!

The play at the end of the film is actually pretty entertaining, with the best performance coming from Sam Rockwell who makes Thisbe’s death scene so sympathetic. Also, Kevin Kline hams it up in his death scene and is probably at his most entertaining during this part of the film (as partial as I am to ass jokes).

Pyramus and Thisbe, A Midsummer Night's Dream

"Too much ham, you say?"

Of course, Stanley Tucci rocks Puck’s closing speech, breaking the fourth wall easily and without any awkwardness. He definitely makes the film worth watching (if Christian Bale’s abs don’t get you, of course).

I’m taking one of my six weeks off from reading Shakespeare next week, but there will still be a blog post next Wednesday with a special treat for you. Because you can’t go an entire week without a good dose of Shakespeare.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Study for The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania - Paton

The Play’s the Thing: Theseus, the Duke of Athens, is about to marry Hippolyta, a queen of the Amazons (I am not making this up). On the eve of his wedding, Egeus comes to him complaining that his daughter, Hermia, will not marry Demetrius and instead insists on loving Lysander. Both gentlemen are head over heels for Hermia, of course. Egeus asks Theseus to use the Athenian law against his daughter, saying that if she will not marry the man her father chooses, she must choose either to be executed or join a convent. Lysander and Hermia plan to run away together in the night to somewhere outside the boundaries of Athens to avoid the law and get married. Hermia shares the plan with Helena, who is in love with Demetrius, and Helena, in an effort to get some of Demetrius’ favour, tells him of the plan. All four of them head off into the the Athenian woods. Meanwhile, a group of tradesmen are putting together a play for Theseus’ nuptials. Among the group is Bottom, a weaver, who is the type who believes he can play every role. After assigning roles, the group makes plans to meet in the woods to rehearse. In the woods, Puck (aka Robin Goodfellow) meets another fairy and the two discuss how the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, have recently had a falling out over the fact that Titania has taken a changeling, an Indian boy, that Oberon wants but she won’t turn him over. Oberon plots to get revenge on Titania by having Puck apply a love potion to her eyes while she’s sleeping that will cause her to fall in the love with the first thing she sees when she wakes up. While Puck heads off to fetch the flower necessary for the potion, Oberon witnesses Helena pleading with Demetrius to give her some bit of affection and him desperately trying to get rid of her and hunt down Hermia and Lysander. Oberon decides to have Puck apply the potion to Demetrius’ eyes as well as Titania’s and tells him to put it on the man in Athenian garments in the wood. Meanwhile, Titania falls asleep in the wood and Oberon applies the potion to her eyes. Elsewhere in the wood, Lysander and Hermia are tired and decide to sleep, but in order to preserve her honour, Hermia tells Lysander to sleep a short distance from her rather than right next to her. Puck comes upon them while they sleep and seeing a man in Athenian garments, applies the potion. Helena, still chasing after Demetrius, comes across Lysander, who immediately falls in love with her. Helena is convinced he’s playing a cruel trick on her and continues on her hunt for Demetrius with Lysander following her. Hermia wakes up and finds herself all alone and goes in search of Lysander. The troop of actors meet up in the woods and discuss the play and Puck takes a bit of a dislike to Bottom and gives him the head of an ass (literally, a donkey) which leads to a lot of jokes. Bottom, of course, stumbles over Titania who wakes up and immediately falls in love with him. Puck reports to Oberon about the night’s events thus far and the pair discover that Puck used the love potion on the wrong Athenian man when Hermia and Demetrius wander by. Demetrius falls asleep in the wood and Oberon has Puck apply the potion to Demetrius and then ensure that Helena is close by when he awakes so that he then falls in love with her too. Puck, in the desire to have a bit of fun, doesn’t remove the potion from Lysander just yet so that he can watch the fireworks. Helena faced with two men both proclaiming their love for her is convinced their in cahoots to humiliate her. Hermia is dismayed to find Lysander rejecting her. Hermia and Helena have a verbal spat and Helena runs away to avoid a physical fight. Lysander and Demetrius plan to duel to win the love of Helena. After having his bit of fun, Puck gets the four individuals to fall asleep, Hermia and Lysander together and Helena and Demetrius likewise. Puck then removes the spell from Lysander so that he’ll once again love Hermia. Oberon, after seeing how Titania dotes on Bottom, feels contrite, especially as she’s now handed over the desired Indian boy, and after the pair fall asleep, he removes the spell and wakes her. Titania and Oberon make up and Oberon has Puck remove the spell from Bottom. Theseus, Hippolyta, and Egeus come into the woods and find the two pairs of young lovers asleep. After it’s revealed that Demetrius now loves Helena, Theseus overrides Egeus, and decrees that the two young couples will be wed at the same time as himself and Hippolyta. At the wedding feast, Bottom and company present the most ridiculous tragedy and then the married couples head off to bed. Oberon and Titania send off fairies to bless the new couples and the play ends with Puck giving a speech that breaks the fourth wall.

Heroes and Villains: Award for favourite character goes to Puck, that troublesome fairy that causes all of the hijinks that makes the play so entertaining. This particular sprite, as embodied in the character created by Shakespeare, is also the reason we now have the word puckish. How can you not love a character that’s responsible for the coining of an adjective?

Insults with Style:

  • you cankerblossom (III.ii)
  • thou painted maypole (III.ii)


  • The course of true love never did run smooth. (I.i)
  • I am a man as other men are. (III.i)
  • reason and love keep little company together (III.i)
  • Thou art as wise as thou art beautiful (III.i)
  • what fools these mortals be (III.ii)
  • cheek by jole (III.ii)

Speech to Know: Theseus gives the following speech when discussing with Hippolyta the crazy stories the two young couples told of their night in the woods.

“More strange than true. I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen, have such seething brains
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;
That is the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong  imagination,
That, if it would apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear?” (V.i)

View from the PitA Midsummer Night’s Dream has a liberal helping of the crazy sauce with warring fairies, love potions gone wrong, and Bottom wandering around with the head of an ass (oh, the jokes!). None of the women in this play are particularly strong, despite the fact that there’s an honest to goodness Amazon warrior queen amongst them. Helena specifically is a doormat who actually tells Demetrius she’d prefer him to treating her like a dog that he beats than to him ignoring her. Not exactly a role model there. However, the play is interesting in proving that the conversation between two women insisting that the other is beautiful and she herself is ugly is a really old one. The inclusion of such a large host of fairies, as the main impetus for much of the action makes for a great deal of entertainment and Titania and Oberon are intriguing as a couple. The play also takes a step into metatheatre, with Bottom and his cronies performing a play (very poorly but with hysterical results) within the play. Shakespeare pushes the envelope even further by having Puck address the audience in the closing speech of the play. It’s an interesting move but the speech itself is so sweet that you can’t help but love Puck and the play as a whole, despite some of its flaws.

Film Review – Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

File:Much ado about nothing movie poster.jpg

Ok, fair reader (well, I call you fair but maybe you’re burly or something. If fair doesn’t work for you, insert the adjective of your choice there), if you thought I gushed a lot in my post about the play on Sunday, you are in for a new load of gushing because this is our first dose of Kenneth Branagh and Shakespeare!!! Seriously, put Kenneth Branagh and Shakespeare anywhere near each other and you have some really fantastic film going on. So consider this the first of a multiple part fan letter to the awesomeness of Kenneth Branagh.

Now for once, I’ve picked a film new enough for you to be able to watch the trailer. Sadly, the person who posted said video on YouTube has disabled embedding, so go and watch it and then come back. I’ll wait here. Have you watched it? Do you need to watch it again? All good? Ok.

So in an interesting choice, the film opens with Emma Thompson (in addition to geeking out over Kenneth Branagh, I will also geek out over the awesomeness that is Emma Thompson who is just adorable. And she and Kenneth were married to each other when this film was made, which is just so delightful because their chemistry… I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s return to the original sentence). Ahem. So in an interesting choice, the film opens with Emma Thompson doing a voice over, reciting the lyrics of the song from II.iii as poetry with the words appearing in white print on the black screen as she says them. After reciting the first verse (with a “hey nonny nonny”), we’re treated to some gorgeous Italian scenery as Emma continues to recite and we eventually get treated to a sight of the ladies and gentlemen of Messina lounging on a hill, with an eventual pan over to Emma Thompson as Beatrice. Who is reading poetry. While sitting in a tree. And she is awesome.

Emma Thompson in a tree

"Robert Pattinson wishes he could pull off sitting in a tree like I do."

So with that intro out of the way, we dive immediately into the actual play with the messenger coming and letting everyone know that Don Pedro has returned from war. And then begins the slow mo sequence. Slow mo of all the main male characters riding horses. Slow mo of women racing around Leonato’s house stripping out of their clothes and hopping over beds. Actually everyone is stripping off their clothes, as all the returning soldiers bathe in a fountain and the women take a communal shower (multiple shower heads, think the shower area at a swimming pool but less modern). There are a lot of naked backsides in the first five minutes of this film. What keeps the slow mo and the nakedness from being worthy of eye-rolling though is the fantastically cinematic score that adds a wonderful layer to the film that keeps it from melodrama but still adds that extra flavour.

Ok, so moving away from the scene-by-scene recounting of the film, I’m going to rave about the cast a little bit. KENNETH BRANAGH AND EMMA THOMPSON. The awesomeness is almost too much. But moving along, Kate Beckinsale plays Hero and she is SO young (IMDb informs me that she was probably 19 or 20 when the film was made and that it was also her first film) but she really pulls off the naive sweetness and gravity of the character. She also does an impressive job of going into hysterics after Claudio ditches her at the wedding and her dad accuses her of being a whore. Speaking of Claudio, it’s Wilson from House! Except at this point, he was probably better known as the guy from  Dead Poets Society. He also is very young and very nicely matches Kate Beckinsale in the naivete and innocence department. Moving along, our other big names are Denzel Washington as Don Pedro and Keanu Reeves as Don John. The fact that Branagh cast these two actors as brothers is just undeniably awesome. Ok, turning down the gush a bit. Oh and Michael Keaton is in there too, playing Dogberry of “remember, I am an ass” fame.

The Men of Much Ado

Hello gentlemen.

The film really has beautiful production value. Not only does Branagh (yeah, he directed this film in addition to playing Benedick. Awesome!) really show Italy to its advantage but the ball scenes are particularly lovely with the detailed and sometimes mildly creepy masks. Also, I totally love the garden in which Benedick and Beatrice are initially tricked by the other characters. Plus, it will always have my affection for being the site of the slapstick that is Kenneth Branagh and the folding chair. Really funny that is.

Now I will admit to the fact that Keanu is not my favourite actor on the planet, as he seems to possess about three different facial expressions, but he actually manages to work it to his advantage, as his default expression works pretty well for playing the villain. The beard helps too. While Michael Keaton plays the fool character of Dogberry, I don’t find him overwhelmingly funny (I much prefer the sparkle and wit of Beatrice and Benedick as you’ll recall). However, he and the actor that play Verges, whenever they go from place to place, pretend that they are riding horses as they trot about (sadly without the benefit of coconuts) which I did find amusing. Every time it happened.

Dogberry, Don John, and Claudio

"This guy says he's an ass."

What I particularly love about this film, apart from the awesomeness that is Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, are some of the really subtle moments that Branagh includes, all of which happen during the ball scene. First is the subtext he includes that Beatrice loved Benedick once before when she was younger and he disappointed her. While the dialogue does support this interpretation, I’ve seen the scene interpreted other ways with Beatrice being far more flippant about Benedick giving her his heart to cut her teeth on. Emma Thompson, however, makes it a moment of vulnerability that plucks the heartstrings just a little. Shortly afterwards, comes the moment when Don Pedro asks Beatrice if she’ll marry him. Again, a scene that can often be overlooked or made to be funny, Branagh chooses to make it sweet and heartfelt. It’s easy to believe that Denzel as Don Pedro really does care for Beatrice and Emma Thompson is wonderful in tactfully and sweetly declining him. Superb acting all around.

But of course, what truly sparkles in this film is the brilliant chemistry between Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. They verbally spar and flirt and fall in love so convincingly and you fall in love with them. They bring Benedick and Beatrice to life and give them a real passion and yet also make them very sympathetic and they’re both just a joy to watch, either alone or together.

Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh as Beatrice and Benedick

Awesomeness overload

And thus ends the glowing review of Much Ado About Nothing. On Sunday, it’s time for another dose of crazy sauce with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Much Ado About Nothing

Claudio, deceived by Don John, accuses Hero - Marcus Stone

The Play’s the Thing: Freshly returned from battle, Don Pedro and his league of followers come to Messina for a bit of relaxation with the Governor, Leonato. Among Don Pedro’s troop is Benedick and Claudio. Benedick is an old verbal sparring partner of Leonato’s niece, Beatrice, and the pair are forever insulting each other and loudly pronouncing that they’re very glad they’ve both decided never to marry. Claudio, on the other hand, after seeing Leonato’s daughter, Hero, falls desperately in love. Don Pedro swears to help Claudio woo Hero at the masqued ball that evening. Meanwhile, Don John, the bastard (literally) brother of Don Pedro plots mischief with his cohorts Conrade and Borachio to upset Claudio’s plans to marry Hero as Claudio is his brother’s current favourite. At the masque, Don Pedro successfully woos Hero to marry Claudio and although Claudio is briefly under the impression that Don Pedro wants Hero for himself (thanks to the machinations of Don John) eventually is very happy to set a wedding date with Hero for the following week. Upset that his first plot didn’t work, Don John and Borachio plot to have Don Pedro and Claudio see a woman who is supposedly Hero in a compromising position with another man the night before the wedding. Before that happens however, most of the major characters join in a plot to have Benedick and Beatrice fall in love with each other. They start by telling Benedick that Beatrice is secretly desperately in love with him and then do the same for Beatrice. The pair both decide that they’ll requite the other’s love. Some night watchmen overhear Conrade and Borachio discussing the already completed plot to impugn Hero’s honour and take the men into custody. Dogberry (the overseer of the watchmen) tries to tell Leonato about the men he has in custody, but given his general incompetence with the language doesn’t get his point across and is put off until later. At the church, while at the altar, Claudio accuses Hero of unfaithfulness, causing Hero to faint dead away. In an effort to make Claudio repent for his actions, Leonato and his family plot to put out the news that Hero died from the shock. Benedick and Beatrice have a very sweet moment where they confess their love for each other and then Beatrice asks Benedick to kill Claudio for slandering her cousin. Eventually, the testimony of Conrade and Borachio make their way to Leonato, Don Pedro, and Claudio, proving Hero’s innocence and Don John’s villainy (Don John has run off by this point). Claudio is repentant that he played a role in Hero’s death and Leonato tells him that he’ll forgive him and have Claudio marry his niece and heir, who looks a lot like Hero. Of course, Hero is revealed to be alive and Claudio is overjoyed. After some protesting on both their parts, Benedick and Beatrice agree to get married and word is brought that Don John has been caught. The whole group have a dance before heading off to the church for a very merry double wedding.

Heroes and Villains: This time I actually have two favourite characters because one just isn’t as much fun without the other. Beatrice and Benedick are delightful with their sharp verbal barbs and ultimately falling in love. If there had been shippers in the 17th century, there would definitely have been a legion of fans for Benetrice.

Pick-up Lines with Style:

I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes. (V.ii)

Speech to Know: There aren’t any really outstanding soliloquies in this play but the exchanges between Beatrice and Benedick are too good not to share. This one is from the first scene in the play:

Beatrice: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick; nobody marks you.
Benedick: What, my dear lady Disdain! are you yet living?
Beatrice: Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.
Benedick: Then is courtesy a turn-coat. – But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart: for, truly, I love none.
Beatrice: A dear happiness to women; they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God, and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.
Benedick: God keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestinate scratched face.
Beatrice: Scratching could not make it worse an ’twere such a face as yours were.
Benedick: Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.
Beatrice: A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.
Benedick: I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer. But keep your way o’ God’s name; I have done.
Beatrice: You always end with a jade’s trick; I know you of old. (I.i)

View from the Pit: I love Much Ado About Nothing so much. A big chunk of that is because I am so partial to some really good, sharp banter, and Benedick and Beatrice have it in spades. In some ways, I think they’re an excellent predecessor to the awesomeness that is His Girl Friday. But there really is just quality plot all the way around. From the epic misunderstanding that provides the major conflict in Claudio and Hero’s relationship to the ridiculousness of Dogberry going around and telling everyone to remember he’s an ass. In addition to being half of one of Shakespeare’s best couples, Beatrice is also a very strong female character. Her speech in Act IV about why she wishes she were a man makes her so sympathetic (contrast with Lady MacBeth when we get around to her) and she really is a delight. With conflict, humour, and a happy ending, this play sparkles all the way through and leaves you thoroughly enchanted at the end of it.

Film Review – Measure for Measure (1979)

Measure for Measure Poster

For a comedy that isn’t very funny, this film is actually pretty decent. Although given the costuming, the movie should really be about hats. I kid you not, everyone has a really epic hat from the Duke to Angelo to Lucio. And depending on whether you consider the veil of a novitiate’s habit to be a hat, Isabella has one too.

Costumes for this one are pretty decent. The men all wear clothes that vary on Governor Ratcliffe from the Disney version of Pocahontas, with the splashiest outfits going to the Duke and Lucio. The actress playing Isabella wears a novitiate’s habit for the entire film (apparently only in Sound of Music do novitiates get to wear clothes made from curtains). I’d pity her but it actually looks pretty comfortable and she gets to wear flip flops. So yes, the film is totally about the awesome hats. And maybe a little bit about the many different options for facial hair.

The Duke

My hat is so awesome I must be the Duke.

Actually the acting in this one is surprisingly good compared with some of the other films in the Complete Works of Shakespeare series. The actor playing Angelo is impressively conflicted in his soliloquies about his sudden attraction to Isabella. The director also makes the intriguing decision to have Angelo address part of his soliloquy to himself in a mirror which actually works very well. Similarly, the actor playing Claudio, who impressively manages to have stubble while in prison and then have none when the bag is pulled off his head at the end, really exercises his emotional range. In the scene where Isabella tells him about Angelo’s demand for her body to spare her brother, he goes from moral outrage and a desire to protect his sister’s honour to a genuine fear of death in a way that makes him almost sympathetic to the audience. The change is not lightning fast but rather a slow evolution that the actor does exceedingly well.

What made me happiest, however, was at the end of the film when the Duke out of the blue tells Isabella he wants her to be his wife. At the first statement, her expression doesn’t change from the default one she’s had for most of the film. At the very end, when he offers her his hand there is a very long pause in which she simply looks at him and lets his hand hang there. For a moment I was very excited and hoped that the director may have decided to interpret the text differently and leave the possible marriage between Isabella and the Duke as ambiguous but he isn’t quite that risque. After the long moment (in which I desperately wish one of the people in the crowd could have said, “Awkward”), Isabella smiles and takes his hand, and the entire main cast walks out in a procession. For those of you keeping track, out of the 5 film adaptations watched so far, 100% have ended with a procession.

The Duke and Isabella

Awkward pause. And feminists rejoice.

There endeth the review. On Sunday I move on to another of my favourite comedies, Much Ado About Nothing.