Branagh's all singing, all dancing version of Shakespeare's least funny comedy cuts nearly three quarters of the text, sets the action in a Hollywood Europe of the golden age (1939-45), and incorporates musical numbers by Gershwin, Berlin and Cole Porter. Few would maintain that this represents the desecration of a great play. The King of Navarre (Nivola) and his entourage (Branagh, Lillard and Lester) forswearing female companionship for three years of serious study and contemplation. Naturally, these idealists are found wanting as soon as a French princess (Silverstone) and her ladies come a-courting. As Branagh has recognised, it's a classic template for screwball comedy. But as he's also recognised, the laborious word play has a suffocatingly arcane ring to it - hence the need for wholesale cutting and rejigging. The result is an oddity, an ersatz but curiously literal musical comedy, an act of double homage to antique artifice. It has a pleasant romantic feel, Technicolor-coded design, and a cast who are ready and willing, if not always able. 'Drowsy with harmony,' at least the songs really are sublime - you can't take that away from 'em.
Cast and crew