Recently I caught The Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2014 production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a delightful Edwardian adaptation of Shakespeare’s play (and will review it soon on this blog). So I thought on this “Reviewsday” (see what I did there?) I would post a review of Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 adaptation, the first feature film of that early comedy.
Branagh, who had earlier adapted Henry V (1989), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Othello (1995), and Hamlet (1996) for the screen, pulled out all the stops in making Love’s Labour’s Lost into a Golden Age film musical. Much of it works: newsreels help to carry the story forward, period details (such as an Esther Williams style sequence), and the music of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and others (especially appropriate since Shakespeare can be considered the creator of the stage musical).
With one exception, I thought the cast was exceptional. How can you lose with Kenneth Branagh (Berowne), Matthew Lillard (Longaville), Natascha McElhone (Rosaline), Nathan Lane (Costard), and Timothy Spall as Don Armado? Unfortunately, from beginning to end, I wondered whether Alicia Silverstone (as the princess) knew what she was saying. I also wish the secondary roles had not been cut so severely, especially the linguistic comedy of Don Armado.
All in all, it is a wonderful concept, but one that doesn’t quite fulfill its promise. The major cuts to the text–in a play that already is slight on character and plot–hurt the overall effect, and the songs, while delightful, were (with the notable exception of “I’ve Got a Crush On You” to carry Act IV, Scene 3) musical interruptions rather than carrying the plot forward in any way.
It was a wonderful, courageous attempt, but I wished for more Shakespeare and less “Three Stooges.”