Love's Labour's Lost [2000]

Having taken Shakespeare at his word on Hamlet (i.e., not cutting a single syllable out of a very long play), Kenneth Branagh selects a more radical approach with Love's Labour's Lost. Here the prolific director-star weeds out much of the play's dialogue and adds songs and dances of a decidedly modern bent. The King of Navarre (Alessandro Nivola, Nicolas Cage's wacko brother in Face/Off) and his three comrades (Branagh, Matthew Lillard, Adrian Lester) take a vow: no womanly distractions while they pursue their studies. Ah, but at that very moment, floating down a magical studio-built river, is the queen of France (Alicia Silverstone), accompanied by three ladies-in-waiting. You do the math. Branagh has set the tale on the eve of the Second World War, which allows for the inclusion of vintage pop songs, including "Cheek to Cheek," "The Way You Look Tonight," and a rousing chorus of "There's No Business Like Show Business," led by--who else?--Nathan Lane. The fact that most of the cast members are not accomplished song-and-dance folk is clearly meant to charm, but the results are spotty at best. Perhaps the most dynamic performer is Natascha McElhone (memorable from Ronin), whose aristocratic bearing and bottomless eyes lend a gravity to the material that is otherwise absent from Branagh's twinkly staging. The play contains some of Shakespeare's loveliest paeans to the language of love, yet Branagh seems to be in a hurry to juice everything up lest the audience lose interest. The labor shows. --Robert Horton

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