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As You Like It (1937)


Main image of As You Like It (1937)
35mm, black and white, 92 mins
Producer/DirectorPaul Czinner
Production CompanyInter-Allied Film Producers
ScenarioRobert J. Cullen
PhotographyHarold Rosson
EditorDavid Lean
MusicWilliam Walton

Cast: Elisabeth Bergner (Rosalind); Laurence Olivier (Orlando); Henry Ainley (exiled duke); Sophie Stewart (Celia); Mackenzie Ward (Touchstone); John Laurie (Oliver)

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The first Shakespeare sound feature made in Britain, this is a charming if unadventurous adaptation that is of historical interest for containing the earliest Laurence Olivier Shakespeare performance to be captured on film.

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As You Like It is noteworthy for two reasons: it was the first feature-length British sound Shakespeare film - though it came after Hollywood adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew (1929), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) and Romeo and Juliet (1936) - and it contains the earliest of Laurence Olivier's Shakespeare performances to be recorded for posterity.

The film's primary aim, though, was to show off the charms of director Paul Czinner's wife Elisabeth Bergner, and the adaptation ensures that she is both centre stage as often as possible, and that her interpretation of Rosalind is presented in the best possible light. Jaques' rueful commentary has been trimmed almost to the point of oblivion - the famous "seven ages of man" speech is here, but not much else, and Touchstone's parallel account of seven types of quarrel has also been deleted.

Opinion has always been divided about Bergner's performance. Many appreciate its liveliness, though it's also been criticised for lacking much of the depth and shading of Shakespeare's original, and her accent is somewhat jarring. Rather more seriously, there's a pronounced lack of chemistry between her and Olivier, whose Orlando seems suffused in a gloom rather more extensive than seems strictly necessary for his admittedly lovelorn character, though his delivery of the text is superb.

This is a pity, as in many other respects the film is one of the most convincing British Shakespeare adaptations made up to then. Aside from the advantage of being able to present Shakespeare in spoken form, Czinner and his designers make inventive use of the contrast between the stylised, fairytale-like court and the more earthy, bucolic Forest of Arden, which extends to the casting of the animals: swans and ostriches for the court, pigs, cows and sheep for the countryside.

He also introduces a serpent and a lioness at the appropriate moments, though their on-screen use is disappointingly brief: the tale of Orlando's encounter with them is entirely verbal - and compared with Olivier's own self-directed Shakespeare films Czinner's approach seems a little half-hearted: it's clearly rather more than just a filmed stage production, but also falls short of being wholly convincing as a Shakespeare film. That said, individual set-pieces are extremely effective, most notably the wrestling match at the start (brilliantly edited by David Lean), where Olivier's Orlando takes on an opponent twice his size but half his speed and convincingly beats him.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
Act I Scene I (6:39)
Act I Scene II (12:03)
Act I Scene III (4:31)
Act II Scene I (5:04)
Act II Scene II (1:04)
Act II Scene III (1:45)
Act II Scene IV (4:19)
Act II Scene VII (7:03)
Act III Scene I (0:47)
Act III Scene II (13:13)
Act III Scene III (1:22)
Act III Scene IV (2:21)
Act III Scene V (2:45)
Act IV Scene I (8:23)
Act IV Scene III (4:20)
Act V Scene I (2:18)
Act V Scene II (5:27)
Act V Scene IV (7:05)
Complete film (1:32:46)
Opening titles (1:24)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Hamlet (1948)
Henry V (1944)
Richard III (1955)
Laurie, John (1897-1980)
Lean, David (1908-1991)
Olivier, Laurence (1907-1989)
Walton, Sir William (1902-1983)
1930s Writers and Directors
Laurence Olivier and Shakespeare
As You Like It On Screen