Shakespearean actor and director Kenneth Branagh’s idea to transform one of Shakespeare’s comedies into an old-fashioned movie musical is not as crazy as it sounds, or as some critics have made it out to be. In fact, the dialogue in Shakespeare’s play moves seamlessly into the lyrics of the Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein and Gershwin songs used in this movie.
Shakespeare’s play LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST is about the King of Navarre who makes his three friends, and the whole royal court, sign an oath to avoid women for three years while they study science and philosophy. The King forgets, however, that the Princess of France is coming to discuss the terms of their future marriage. Accompanying the Princess will be three handmaidens, a fact that pricks the interest of his three friends.
The King and his friends decide that it would not break their vows if they officially met the women outside the gates of the court, and if the Princess and her maidens camped outside in royal tents. Back at the court, however, the men can’t get their minds off the women, which truly breaks their vows. One of the King’s friends, a witty fellow named Berowne played by Branagh, convinces them that relationships with the female sex are the essence of life and happiness. The impetuous guys decide to woo the women secretly, but the gals have other tricks up their sleeves.
There are several delightful musical numbers in LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST. They also include some elegant dancing, all to the sounds of great music from classic popular songsmiths like Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, and Oscar Hammerstein. Shakespeare’s dialogue leads seamlessly into the song lyrics, implying that Shakespeare and some of America’s greatest composers are virtually saying the same thing.
That said, the movie doesn’t give viewers much of a chance to focus on one or two of its four couples. For example, in the famous movie musical ON THE TOWN (1951) with Gene Kelly, two sailors woo two different woman and a third woman woos a third sailor, but there’s no question that the main romance is about one sailor’s relationship with one girl, the winner of the Miss Turnstiles Contest.
LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST has a couple other minor problems.
First of all, the director, Kenneth Branagh (HAMLET), inserts a couple lewd sexual gestures when one of the men pines for his lover and a sensuous dance number where the men and women dress up in masks to fool one another. Secondly, when one character sings, “I get no kick from cocaine” (Cole Porter’s lyric from “I Get a Kick out of You”), another character sitting nearby with his back turned kicks up some cocaine dust when he sneezes. It’s a cheap gratuitous joke, but it IS funny.
However, LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST is beautiful to look at. There’s also the music of Shakespeare’s verse and the phrasing of America’s past musical masters to enjoy, along with a little fancy footwork. It’s all really quite diverting. LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST may be considered lightweight fare compared to other film adaptations of Shakespeare’s work, but it’s highly entertaining. Also, the worldview is lightly moral, with some positive references to God and Heaven.
(B, L, S, A, DD, M) Light moral worldview about romantic love, including brief positive references to God and Heaven; one light profanity; some mild slapstick comedy and newsreel footage of World War II; two lewd sexual gestures simulating intercourse and a sensual dance number where one man licks the upper chest of a woman; no nudity, but women in swimsuits and sexy dance outfits and men in T-shirts; alcohol use; smoking and a joke about a man sneezing while trying to sniff cocaine during the lyric about cocaine from Cole Porter's classic song, "I Get a Kick out of You" (the line is "I get no kick from cocaine, mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all"; and, some trickery and pomposity.
In LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST, Kenneth Branagh transforms one of Shakespeare’s comedies into an old-fashioned movie musical. The idea is not as crazy as it sounds. In fact, the execution is mostly delightful. In the story, the King of Navarre makes his three friends sign an oath to avoid women for three years while they study science and philosophy. The King forgets, however, that the Princess of France is coming with her three handmaidens to discuss the terms of their future marriage. One of the friends breaks his vow and convinces the others that relationships with the female sex are the essence of life and happiness. The impetuous guys decide to woo the women secretly, but the gals have other tricks up their sleeves.
There are several delightful musical numbers in LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST. They also include some elegant dancing, all to the sounds of great music from classic songsmiths like Cole Porter, Gershwin and Oscar Hammerstein. The director inserts a couple lewd innuendoes and jokes in a couple scenes, so caution is advised. However, the worldview otherwise is lightly moral, with some positive references to God and Heaven. Ultimately, LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST shows that Shakespeare and some of our greatest popular composers were saying similar things.