Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 film adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost is light and pretty and off-key. Set up as a romantic comedy from the late thirties, the film follows its characters as they dance with clean-cut ebullience, go through a million wardrobe changes and sing a number of toe-tapping favorites.
Is this the same play critic Harold Bloom describes as “a festival of language, an exuberant fireworks display in which Shakespeare seems to seek the limits of his verbal resources, and discovers that there are none”? The actual words in the film are softened beyond recognition.
Sir Antony Sher writes about drama school in his essay “Speaking Shakespeare”: “I learned two things which I still practice to this day: one, that you have to paraphrase every single word, translate it into ordinary English; two, that, having understood it, you then have to get it up to speed.”
He goes on to assert that “The essence of good Shakespeare acting is an ability to speak the text. There’s no amount of physical showing-off which can compensate.”
I felt the movie was full of kicks and twirls rather than actual verbal play. It doesn’t help that Alicia Silverstone whimpers her lines as if she doesn’t understand what she’s saying. This sounds mean of me, but if she had had a lesson from Sir Antony Sher, perhaps she would have found some common ground with Shakespeare’s language before filming started. After all, it takes a lot of guts to act Shakespeare, and if the audience senses temerity in the players instead of rip-roaring confidence, it is quickly lost.
Lastly, the film ends on a happy pairing off of the lovers instead of the stalemate at the end of the play. We are given reason to believe that love’s labor’s have been won just as soundly as the war the men have fought in. I can see how Branagh was romanced by the idea of making the play into a madcap musical comedy. Some of the numbers were great. Why quibble over this interpretation of the play then? It made for a brief hour and a half of pleasant viewing labor.