July 28, 2006

Gratuitous Llama Netflix Movie Review


Love's Labour's Lost (2000)

This is another one of Kenneth Branagh's screen adaptations of Shakespeare. Until just last week, I'd never even heard of it. Having seen it, I can understand why.

Branagh made this film something like six years after Emma Thompson left him in her wake, but I guess he still hadn't got over her yet because the whole thing looks like a long, drunken, table-top stunt. Branagh takes Shakespeare's (rather weak) story of the King of Navarre and his buddies sequestering themselves away in academe, only to be thwarted by the Princess of France and her ladies, and sets it in the late 1930's, complete with a newsreel-talkie chorus to keep us up to date on what's going on. He also unleashes Nathan Lane (as Costard the court jester) in full Vaudeville mode, complete with ad-libs, take 'ems and rubber chicken. On top of this, he liberally intersperses the play with musical numbers from the period - primarily Irving Berlin and Cole Porter - complete with heavily choreographed dancing. (The radical shifts from late 16th to early 20th Century language and movement quickly make one's head hurt.)

Now I've seen this play done in "period" performance before. I saw a production at the Shakespeare Theatre in Dee Cee that was set in pre-WWI Oxford that worked pretty well. I saw a tee-vee production years ago set in Georgian England that worked even better. So it certainly can be done. But this? It's simply one giant gimmick: Ken Branagh jumping the shark.

I will say this, though. The King of Navarre is played by Alessandro Nivola, of whom I'd never heard before. It isn't often that an American actor can hold his own amongst the Brits when doing Shakespeare (as witnessed in Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing and by Alicia Silverstone's wretched performance here as the French Princess), but Nivola does quite a fair job of it.

Also, can I just say here how much I like Richard Briers? He's been hanging around Brannagh ever since Henry V, but his career stretches back well before that. He's the perfect example of an unassuming but nonetheless solid, solid Brit actor, the kind one enjoys watching purely for his skill and craftsmanship. Even in a dog of a movie like this.

Anyhoo, I certainly can't recommend this movie. True Shakespeareans ought to be horrified. And if you just can't take your Bard without a Cole Porter chaser, stick with Kiss Me, Kate.

Posted by Robert at July 28, 2006 09:14 AM | TrackBack

We watched that a few years back and it was definitly not on my favorite list of Shakespeare movies. I don't mind a musical now and then, but this one was just off some how.

Posted by: Jordana at July 28, 2006 09:56 AM

Haven't seen it yet. The plot of the play may be weak, but the language is gorgeous. If that is taken away, you have nothing here.

Posted by: ken at July 28, 2006 02:13 PM

Have you seen Richard Briers in the old BBC comedy "Good Neighbors"? Whenever he and Penelope Keith play off one another it's comedy gold.

Posted by: Mike at July 28, 2006 02:50 PM

Ken, that's the most frustrating part. Branagh delivers Shakespeare's language very well. But you're just settling into it when suddenly he breaks into "Just The Way You Look Tonight."

I don't know the play well enough to say how much might have been chopped except that the masque of the Nine Worthies toward the end didn't make it.

Mike - I may have done long ago. Certainly I love watching old Penelope Keith series.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at July 28, 2006 03:06 PM