Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. France/United Kingdom/Canada, 2000. Pathé Pictures International, Intermedia Films, Arts Council of England, StudioCanal, Miramax, Shakespeare Film Company. Screenplay by Kenneth Branagh, based on the play by William Shakespeare. Cinematography by Alex Thomson. Produced by David Barron, Kenneth Branagh. Music by Patrick Doyle. Production Design by Tim Harvey. Costume Design by Anna Buruma. Film Editing by Dan Farrell, Neil Farrell.
Kenneth Branagh once again revamps Shakespeare for the big screen, this time with rather minimal results. Brought up to a more modern, 1930s setting, and featuring songs and dances of the period (Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, etc.), the film centres around the king of fictional Navarre (Alessandro Nivola) who has decided to give up the outside world for three years of solitude and study. He swears in his three best friends (Matthew Lillard, Adrian Lester, Branagh) to do the same, to shun all earthly pleasures (including women) and concentrate on nothing but expanding their minds for the entire time they have consigned themselves to his cloister. From the very first day, however, their resolve is tested when four beautiful young women show up to tempt them: the princess of France (Alicia Silverstone) and her three ladies-in-waiting (Natascha McElhone, Emily Mortimer and Carmen Ejogo). Branagh’s use of music isn’t what ruins this picture, it’s his shallow screenplay that guts out too much of the story and leaves the rest of it feeling limp. By the time the four couples have overcome all obstacles and fallen truly in love, there’s no sense of accomplishment to allow the audience to feel like something has been experienced. The performers are all lovely and sharp, with a surprising Silverstone among the most appealing, and all do well with the singing and dancing, with Nivola being the best singer of the guys.