Right there on that media cart in front of the very snazzy flat screen television are the three video productions of As You Like It my class is viewing during this Shakespeare Workshop.
The first is the version from 1937 starring Laurence Olivier as Orlando in his very first screen role and the beloved actress of worldwide reknown, Elisabeth Bergner, who plays the fair Rosalind. The second is the 1978 BBC made-for-TV production which stars the beauteous Helen Mirren as Rosalind and Angharad Rees as Celia and nobody else worth mentioning; the third is the 2006 Kenneth Branagh version with Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind, dear Brian Blessed as both Duke Senior and Duke Frederick, and that adorable Romola Garai, who played Emma in the Masterpiece Theater version of the same just this past winter, as Celia.
At the present moment, we're watching only the first two versions, with Branagh's version saved as a treat to watch straight through in week seven of the eight week workshop. And I have to say, those first two versions are some hard going. As it turns out, the majority of the class, include ME, the teacher who roped these kids into this thing, thinks that both are complete crap.
I was standing at the back of the class watching the Olivier/Bergner version yesterday and thinking that I could be better entertained by closely observing a stick of butter. And just don't get me started on that made-for-TV version. The BBC filmed a whole slew of Shakespeare's plays for the edumacation of British schoolchildren -- those movies were meant to be the definitive work of Shakespeare for an entire generation of young minds, and they star quite a few heavyweights from British stage and screen. There are four complete sets of these movies that have been released upon -- excuse me, for -- the general public and they're titled "The Works of William Shakespeare," but I think their subtitle should be "An Earnest Attempt to Make Students Hate Him and His Dumb Plays."
That would include this As You Like It, in which the actor playing Orlando looks like a girl and the costumes hail from the medieval period of history instead of the Renaissance era, a glaring error even a piker like me can recognize and feature these ridiculous horned headdresses for the women -- THANK HEAVEN they get to escape to the Forest of Arden and ditch those things -- and whoops!!! There you did it! You went and let me get started.
I haven't seen the Branagh version yet because I was saving it as a treat for myself for slogging through these other two versions -- I can only hope that it is better than his Henry V and as good as or better than his Hamlet -- but if it turns out to be as bad as the other two, I may have a riot on my hands.
I'm greatly looking forward to seeing how the director of As You Like It at the Stratford Festival will handle things this September. It couldn't be any worse than what we have going on right now.
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