Branagh returns to a labour of love
Kenneth Branagh’s mission to make Shakespeare accessible took a blow when his film of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ flopped, but now he’s back with a Japanese-inspired ‘As You Like It’. He talks to John Hiscock.
Five years have passed since Kenneth Branagh last steered William Shakespeare to the screen with an all-star, singing, dancing version of Love’s Labour’s Lost that not only failed to find an audience, but performed so dismally that it torpedoed his plans for two more Bard-based frolics.
Branagh: ‘I’m trying to make Shakespeare accessible and inspire the opposite of reverence’
Undeterred, Branagh changed direction and took roles in other films, television productions and on the London stage. Now he feels enough time has elapsed for him to return to his first love.
So, with financing in place, enthusiastic producers and an intriguing cast, the man often described as “the new Olivier” is once again immersed in Shakespeare, this time directing an ambitious, Japanese-influenced film of As You Like It. . . . .
His approach to As You Like It has been influenced by his voluminous research into Japanese literature and his interest in the English adventurers who went to Japan in the 19th century. Although it is being filmed at Shepperton and on location in West Sussex, Branagh wants to
invoke what he calls the beauty and simplicity of the Japanese landscape, while making the Forest of Arden a much wilder, more surreal place. He is also taking advantage of the Japanese setting to borrow from the martial arts world and to underline the dangers inherent in the play which he feels are often neglected in stage productions.
“The research is an enormously enjoyable part of it,” he said. “Sometimes I think I’d rather spend six months doing the research and not do the film.”
Not in this case, however. Even after 25 years in showbusiness, Branagh has retained his capacity for wonder.
“I find it miraculous how these things get done,” he marvels. "You spend a year, 10 years, 15 years trying to get it together and it’s absolutely amazing that one morning we have a call sheet and we begin to shoot As You Like It.
"I shoot one actor for a bit and then someone else and someone else and I’ll put it together and somehow at the end it becomes this big thing with 600 people watching it and you think, ‘How on earth did this happen?’ "
Variety’s Michael Fleming reports that the adaptation will be set in the late 19th century and that it is being financed by HBO. Branagh himself is likely to take a small role - possibly that of the court jester, Touchstone - and Adrian Lester (who appeared in Branagh’s musical version of Love’s Labours Lost), Brian Blessed and Jimmy Yuill are also said to be taking supporting roles.