(William Shakespeare’s As You Like It , 9:00-11:30 p.m., HBO)
By Laurence Vittes
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The latest in Kenneth Branagh’s cavalcade of Shakespeare adaptations takes on one of the Bard’s most popular comedies and sets it, as if the Bard had always intended it to be so, in 19th century Japan.
Perhaps seduced by the lighthearted ease with which the various complications of love and politics are sorted out, Branagh’s laid-back, unhurried interpretation is tinged with the simple fun of a Disney movie like “Darby O‘Gill and the Little People.”
In developing character, each player uses the resulting spaciousness to his or her advantage, as if their first concern was that the dialogue sound as natural as possible. Only an uncharacteristically subdued Kevin Kline, playing melancholy Jaques, seems inhibited by this tendency, and still he gives a performance of unforgettable grace and subtlety.
The cast as a whole is splendid, led by the beauty and resourcefulness of Bryce Dallas Howard’s Rosalind. She clearly is having fun being young and in love and allows herself to be seduced by the sound and rhythm of each word she speaks. Orlando (David Oyelowo) is a perfect match for her, his ardent love and emotional confusion igniting a wonderful chemistry between them.
Alfred Molina gives a sublime performance as Touchstone, the town-bred court jester let loose in the wilds where he finds his mate (Janet McTeer, who responds with a bawdy appetite all her own). Romola Garai as Celia has a pouting beauty and lovely, fun-filled eyes that make it obvious why delightfully earnest Oliver (Adrian Lester) is helpless in her sight. Meanwhile, Jade Jefferies makes her Phoebe something special, alternating between doe-eyed adoration and whining magnificence.
The Forest of Arden scenes were shot at Wakehurst Place, a West Sussex park of outstanding natural beauty that dates from the 13th century, consisting of several different styles of garden and a dramatic ravine filled with Asian woodland plants.
Unlike so many adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, this one not only pleases just as it stands but also could inspire a genuine curiosity in many viewers about seeing more of his work.
Rosalind: Bryce Dallas Howard
Celia: Romola Garai
Jaques: Kevin Kline
Touchstone: Alfred Molina
Orlando De Boys: David Oyelowo
Duke Senior/Duke Frederick: Brian Blessed
Oliver De Boys: Adrian Lester
Audrey: Janet McTeer
Phoebe: Jade Jefferies
Silvius: Alex Wyndham
Adapted for the screen by/executive producer/director: Kenneth Branagh; Producer: Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund and Simon Moseley; Director of photography: Roger Lanser; Production designer: Tim Harvey; Editor Neil Farrell; Art director: Christian Andersson; Music: Patrick Doyle; Costume designer: Susannah Buxton.