TBT – Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)

I had every intention to follow up my ‘5 films for people who don’t like Shakespeare’ list with my own top 5 adaptations of his plays. It was a fucking huge undertaking and I couldn’t make my mind up on a a final list. I kept flitting between the good ones and my guilty pleasures. I’m such a fickle human being that I’m never entirely comfortable making a definitive statement of favouritism about a subject. The top two were easy (The Hollow Crown and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing respectively) but the others changed every time I opened the draft post. Possibly because, when it comes down to it, I’ll always prefer to indulge in Shakespeare performed on a stage. I expect something different from a cinematic production to a theatrical one: the scope is much bigger and it’s easier to push the boundaries more. That’s probably why my Shakespeare-related film history has more of a She’s The Man feel than a Kenny B’s Hamlet to it. Although, I tell a lie: there was another film that continued to keep its place on my list. It’s one of my faves even if it wasn’t critically beloved. It’s about time it receives some decent attention so have given it pride of place as my latest TBT.

 Shakespeare, Cole Porter and Big Kenny B: well if that doesn’t sound like the equation to create the best fucking film ever then I don’t know what does. Although, actually Love’s Labours Lost isn’t really that great. For one thing it’s based on one of the least exciting plays: the comedies have never really been my thing. The plot is really nothing to get too enthusiastic about: the Prince of Navarre (Alessandro Nivola) and his three companions (Kenneth Branagh, Adrian Lester and Matthew Lillard) all swear off women to concentrate on their studies for 3 years. Conveniently, only moments after the ink on their agreement is dried, the Prince is reminded of the imminent visit of a beautiful French Princess (Alicia Silverstone) and her equally comely companions (Natascha McElhone, Emily Mortimer, Carmen Ejogo). D’oh! Hilarity, and unnecessary disguises, ensues.
So right from the off, you’re working with a play in which very little happens and is merely an indulgence in witty banter. So it’s kind of bizarre that Branagh’s script takes away a certain amount of that banter. You also have to question the success of an adaptation when it’s got more holes than a fucking doughnut shop. It’s a fucking literary bloodbath of the Quentin Tarantino variety. For the most part this isn’t too big a deal even for someone as fucking stubborn as me when it comes to literary adaptations. Traditionalists certainly won’t be happy, particularly coming from Branagh, the Shakespearean master: whose almost anally faithful adaptation of Hamlet was so celebrated.

Unfortunately, Branagh’s cull has limited some characters to mere fleeting glances that waste the talent that he has brought together. Gathering together the comic talent of Richard Briers and Geraldine McEwan and giving them one scene is perhaps the biggest travesty on show. Thank fuck then that the scene in question is an absolute stunner: McEwan and Briers prance about singing ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ is definitely one of the films most inspired and light-hearted moments. Then you have the incomparable Timothy Spall playing the larger-than-life Spaniard Don Armado. Upon rewatching the other day I have ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’ in my head all day thanks to his heavily;y accented rendition. The supporting cast is sublime but Branagh has left them next to nothing to do. It’s fucking criminal.
These stings only cause more irritation when viewed alongside the casting of Alicia Silverstone and Alessandro Nivola as the two leads: not only does Silverstone fucking suck at the singing side but the pair never really get to grips with the Shakespearean dialogue. Unfortunately for the pair, Branagh and McElhone always outshines them in terms of performance, to the point that it becomes difficult to remember which pair are the Royalty and which their social inferiors. Although that’s not to say that Branagh is on his usual hammy form. His Berowne is as relaxed and understated a performance as he’ll probably ever give: Branagh is clearly having the time of his fucking life and it’s impossible not to get swept up in his excitement.
Despite the few bum notes within the cast, there are plenty of shining lights to make up for it. Nathan Lane excels in the, admittedly shortened, role of Costard and Adrian Lester is a fucking phenomenon that only shines the brighter next to his less musically inclined co-stars. I have to be honest, it was watching him show off his smooth moves that created another of my pathetic lifelong imaginary love affairs. Lester is on top form but the entire cast throws themselves into their performances and don’t let their unsuitability stop them going all out to impress. If anything, the lack of skill only makes the film more endearing.

That’s really the overall message for Love’s Labours Lost; there are probably more problems with this film than positives but I still fucking love it. It is fun and absolutely adorable. I love the use of songs and the annoyingly catchy mix of songs included on the soundtrack. There are things to quibble over, obviously and I’m not entirely sure that the pre-War setting adds anything to the play or the characters. But who gives a fuck when it’s so much fun. Love’s Labours Lost is by no means the greatest adaptation of Shakespeare’s words you’ll ever see but it is fun and utterly compelling: especially for those of you who, like me, miss the golden age of Hollywood musicals.  

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