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As You Like It On Screen

Film and TV adaptations of Shakespeare's woodland romance

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First produced at around 1599-1600 and first published in the First Folio of 1623, As You Like It was sourced from Thomas Lodge's Roselynde (1590). One of Shakespeare's most popular comedies, it has been filmed or broadcast on several occasions, including three full-length British feature films.

The first screen adaptation of the play was Love in a Wood, made in 1915 by the London Film Company and directed by the prolific Maurice Elvey. It was a modern-dress update of the play, adapted by Kenelm Foss, and its 4,189 foot length suggests a running time of about an hour at projection speeds of the time. No copies appear to survive, and trade paper Bioscope merely acknowledged its existence in their 14 October 1915 issue.

The second version (pictured) was made in 1936 by Paul Czinner, and holds the distinction of being Britain's first proper Shakespeare sound film, in terms of presenting the text more or less as originally written. Its other distinction is that it features Laurence Olivier's earliest recorded Shakespeare performance (as Orlando), though it is hampered by the miscasting of Czinner's wife Elisabeth Bergner as Rosalind and by a generally stagebound approach to the play that is only occasionally enlivened by David Lean's editing (the wrestling match being a high point).

On 5 February 1937, an eleven-minute scene from the play, taken from Robert Atkins' then-ongoing stage production with Margaretta Scott and Ion Swinley, held the distinction of being the first television broadcast of anything by Shakespeare. Unfortunately, despite its historical importance, it was an unrecorded live broadcast, so has not survived.

The BBC next broadcast the play on 23 March 1963, this time sourced from Michael Elliott's Royal Shakespeare Company production with Vanessa Redgrave, Patrick Allen, David Buck, Patrick Wymark and Ian Richardson. The television version was directed by Ronald Eyre.

The BBC Television Shakespeare production, the first specifically made for television and not sourced from an existing stage version, was broadcast on 17 December 1978, directed by Basil Coleman and starring Brian Stirner, Helen Mirren, Angharad Rees, Richard Pasco and James Bolam. Unlike Paul Czinner's studio-set version, this was filmed on location in the countryside, with somewhat mixed results, the realistic setting often working against Shakespeare's poetry, though the acting is above par for a relatively early entry in the series. An accompanying 25-minute Shakespeare in Perspective documentary, broadcast the same evening, was presented by the writer Brigid Brophy.

The third cinema adaptation was directed by Christine Edzard in 1992 and starred Andrew Tiernan, Emma Croft, Celia Bannerman, Griff Rhys Jones and James Fox. In stark contrast to both the Paul Czinner version and indeed to Edzard's earlier work, which includes The Tales of Beatrix Potter (1971) and Little Dorrit (1988), this eschews period styling for gritty urban realism, restaging the action in London's Docklands, then undergoing extensive redevelopment and yuppification. A critical and commercial disaster, the general consensus was that it completely failed to make a dramatically convincing case for such a comprehensive rethink of a play notable for its championing of the virtues of the countryside.

On 16 November 1994, the BBC broadcast a 25-minute reduction of the play as part of the Shakespeare: The Animated Tales series, scripted by Leon Garfield (though all the words are sourced directly from Shakespeare), directed by Alexei Karayev and with a vocal cast including Sylvestra Le Touzel (Rosalind), John McAndrew (Orlando) and Maria Miles, Peter Gunn, David Holt and Nathaniel Parker each taking on multiple roles. It suggests that animation may be the most effective medium at conveying Shakespeare's fantastical Forest of Arden, here depicted via oils painted directly onto acetate cels to create a wide range of vividly coloured settings. Imaginative touches abound: mischievous Cupids chase Rosalind and Orlando, the latter's romantic verses are impaled on stags' antlers as well as trees, a goat sports Touchstone's jester's cap while he has a romantic dalliance behind a hay-bale, and the famous "seven ages of man" speech is given a distinctive treatment resembling animated charcoal drawings.

The fourth British big-screen version is due for release in 2006, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Brian Blessed, Bryce Dallas Howard, Kevin Kline and Adrian Lester.

Michael Brooke

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