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This review refers to the 2006 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, directed by Kenneth Branagh. There are some excellent synopses of the story online, but in essence it concerns the love between Rosalind, the daughter of Duke Senior, who is usurped from his court by his brother Duke Frederick. Rosalind is forced to leave the court – accompanied by her friend Celia, daughter of Frederick – and live in the forest, where Orlando, who was lovestruck from the first moment that he met Rosalind, is trying to find her. As with many of Shakespeare’s plays, mistaken identity is a factor – Rosalind pretends to be a boy named ‘Ganymede’ and offers counsel to Orlando, to help him get over Rosalind. Around this central story are other sub-plots of love, romance, and the search for happiness and meaning.

In this version, the story is transported to Japan – this was a move which received mixed reviews. For my part, I thought it worked beautifully, affording some wonderful scenery, which was photographed beautifully. Bryce Dallas Howard was beyond stunning as Rosalind – she was luminous, and it was easy to see how Orlando became so entranced by her. Romola Garai played Celia, Rosalind’s best friend, and was great in the part, amply demonstrating why she is carving out a career as a respected actress. In truth, it is hard to select just one member of the cast as stand-out, as they were uniformly excellent. Brian Blessed starred as both Duke Senior and Duke Frederick, and made the two characters very distinctive, showing the harshness and cruelty of Frederick, and the kindly gentleness of Senior. Kevin Kline shines as a melancholy lord, and Alfred Molina puts in a great turn as Touchstone, a court fool (jester of sorts) who accompanies Rosalind and Celia when they leave the court. Other terrific performances include David Oyelowo as Orlando and Adrian Lester as Oliver (Orlando’s brother).

I also loved the epilogue in which the fourth wall is well and truly broken in a lovely way. Overall, this was a delightful, colourful, romantic adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s comedies, and I highly recommend it both to fans and non-fans of the Bard.

Year of release: 2006

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Producers: Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Simon Moseley

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Kenneth Branagh

Main cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Romola Garai, Brian Blessed, David Oyelowo, Kevin Kline, Adrian Lester, Alfred Molina

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Click here for my review of the televised live performance of the play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 2009.

Click here for my review of the play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in May 2013

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This 1999 movie was Hollywood’s take on one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays.  It boasts an impressive cast – Michelle Pfieffer, Rupert Everett, Anna Friel, Dominic West, Christian Bale, Calista Flockhart and Stanley Tucci among them.

Until fairly recently, I did not enjoy reading Shakespeare’s work – it seemed very ‘dry’ when written on a page (to me, at least).  However, when his words are acted out on stage or screen, it all falls in to place, and it’s much easier to appreciate the wit and intelligence of Shakespeare.  (In fact, watching this made me want to read the play.)

In this case, I would suggest that some knowledge of the storyline of the play is helpful before watching (it does cover three interlinked stories), but it is certainly not necessary to have studied or read the play in any detail.

Briefly, Egeus (played by Bernard Hill) wants his daughter Hermia (Anna Friel) to marry Demetrius (Christian Bale).  However, Hermia is in love with Lysander (Dominic West).  When she is given the choice of marrying Demetrius, being sentenced to death, or living as a Nun for the rest of of her life, Hermia and Lysander decide to run away together.  Hermia’s friend Helena (Calista Flockhart, in a fantastic turn) is in love with Demetrius, but he loves Hermia.

Meanwhile, King of the Fairies Oberon (Rupert Everett) is estranged from his Fairy Queen Titania (Michelle Pfieffer); she has taken over the care of a changeling boy, after the death of the boy’s mother, who was one of Titania’s worshippers.  Oberon wants the boy to work for him.  He summons his mischievous but loyal fairy servant Puck to sprinkle a magic flower on Titania’s eyes while she sleeps – the spell it casts causes the sleeping person to fall in love with the first living thing they see upon waking.  Oberon believes that Titania will fall in love with a creature of the forest (where the fairies all live) and while she is distracted, he can take the boy.

After seeing Demetrius and Helena arguing, Oberon also orders Puck to sprinkle the magic flower on Demetrius’s eyes so that he will see and fall in love with Helena.  Puck however has never seen Demetrius and when he stumbles across Lysander asleep in the forst (he and Hermia have stopped there for the night before continuing with their escape), he sprinkles the magic flower on Lysander instead.  Helena then comes across Lysander and wakes him, and Lysander falls in love with her immediately.  When Puck’s mistake is discovered, he also sprinkles the magic flower on Demetrius’s eyes, and Demetrius too sees and falls in love with Helena.  The two young men argue over who should be with Helena, while Hermia accuses Helena of stealing Lysander’s love.

While all this is going on, a group of workers in the village are practicing a play to put on at the wedding of the Duke Theseus and his bride to be, Hippolyta.  During their rehearsals in the forest, Puck sees Bottom (Kevin Kline) and casts a spell giving Bottom an ass’s head, which naturally terrifies the fellow performers.  They run away, and Bottom falls asleep.  And then he is the first thing that Fairy Queen Titania sees when she awakes…

The plot sounds complicated, but it all plays out beautifully.  The action is moved from Ancient Athens to Italy at the turn of the 19th century.  The reason for this is not made clear (and the script retains its references to Athens), but it doesn’t matter – Italy looks lovely – the film was shot on location, large in Tuscany.  The fairy forest is enchanting, and even the cast are beautiful – in fact the whole film looks as though it has had its own sprinkling of fairy dust!

The cast are all terrific.  Stanley Tucci – always under-rated – excels as Puck, and really seems to be having fun with the character.  Kevin Kline also makes the most of his part and gives a great performance.  Puck and Bottom are probably the two funniest characters in the script, and I thought Tucci and Kline did great justice to the roles.

The script is actually very very funny – I laughed out loud on a number of occasions – and very romantic and sweet too.  The interlinked stories tie up together well and the ending is perfect – well, there must be a reason that Shakespeare is so revered centuries after his death.

Overall, this is a very amusing, and beautiful looking film.  Even if you’re not a fan of Shakespeare, I’d recommend giving this film a watch.

Year of release: 1999

Director: Michael Hoffman

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Michael Hoffman

Main cast: Michelle Pfieffer, Rupert Everett, Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Anna Friel, Dominic West, Christian Bale, Calista Flockhart

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Click here for my review of the play (Penguin Shakespeare edition).

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