Love's Labours Lost

Love's Labours Lost


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The last time Kenneth Branagh directed Shakespeare on the big screen was in the full length, four-hour Hamlet, which proved patchy and exhausting. Now he has turned the lightweight romantic comedy, Love's Labours Lost, into a 1940s musical, which appears stylised and short.

Branagh has cut the play so drastically, only its shadow remains. He adds witty send-ups of Movietone Newsreels and has his cast singing and dancing like college kids on a Fred & Ginger night.

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The story of three friends who join the king of Navarre in an all-work-no-play self-improvement course, which collapses immediately the princess of France pays a visit with her ladies-in-waiting, is charming, silly and utterly inconsequential.

There are moments of pantomime (Timothy Spall as a jokey Spaniard), vaudeville (Nathan Lane leads the company in There's No Business Like Show Business) and dottiness (the girls play cricket on the village green). Branagh's theatrical approach accentuates his stagey sets and, despite the trick of inserting George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern classics where The Bard's words once were, the film lacks the originality Baz Luhrmann brought to Romeo And Juliet.

The dance routines are copies of Busby Berkeley, Esther Williams and Fred Astaire numbers, making you yearn for the originals. Only Adrian Lester, as the king's black friend, Dumane, can do it properly, although Branagh has a pleasant singing voice.

Alicia Silverstone, as the princess, is a feisty Valley girl and the beautiful Natascha McElhone, as Rosaline, has a humourous twinkle that is never exploited.

Matthew Lillard, from Scream, as Longaville, feels desperately underutilised and Alessandro Nivola, so electifying in Best Laid Plans, is unrecognisable as the bland, characterless monarch. Spall and Lane are not given the chance to steal the show - they could at the drop of a sonnet - which leaves Branagh with the best lines and sweetest ballads.

Although you are left wanting more, what you really want is Top Hat. Or the play itself, unpolluted by pastiche.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Kenneth Branagh brings song and dance to the bard.
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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writer: Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone, Alessandro Nivola, Natascha McElhone, Matthew Lillard, Adrian Lester, Richard Briers

Year: 2000

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK/US


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