For HBO/BBC Films, Branagh sets the famous Bard comedy in 19th-century Japan. The film will premiere on the cable network 9 PM (ET) Aug. 21. Check your local listings for this and future airings.
For his fifth Shakespearean screen adaptation, Branagh employs a cast that features Brian Blessed (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, "I, Claudius") as Duke Frederick/Duke Senior, Romola Garai (Calico, "Vanity Fair") as Celia, Bryce Dallas Howard (Public Theater's As You Like It, "Spider-man 3") as Rosalind, Kevin Kline (King Lear, "A Fish Called Wanda") as Jaques, Adrian Lester (Company, "Hustle") as Oliver, Janet McTeer (A Doll's House, "Tumbleweeds") as Audrey, Alfred Molina (Fiddler On The Roof, "Spider-man 2") as Touchstone and David Oyelowo (RSC's Henry VI, "Five Days") as Orlando.
Also included in the cast are Richard Briers as Old Adam, Jimmy Yuill as Corin, Alex Wyndham as Silvius and Jade Jefferies as Phoebe.
Branagh first got the idea of making a movie version of As You Like It while playing Touchstone in repertory in the mid-'80s. "As You Like It is a classic feel good romantic comedy, and I've seen it have a delirious effect on audiences," the director said in production notes. "The combination of light and shade means that Shakespeare's comedies are often as beautiful and moving as the tragedies."
He added, "By relocating the Forest of Arden to Japan, it would be possible to get audiences to experience the story in a new, different and exotic way. I felt the sublime landscape and fascinating culture could be an inspiring setting for this quintessential romantic comedy. With sumo, martial arts and cherry blossom, I hope that the drama and the joy can combine to produce a wonderfully enjoyable film. "People tend to feel that because the Forest of Arden is named in the play, it must be the place in Warwickshire. But Warwickshire isn't mentioned, any more than the Ardenne in France (another suggested location). In fact, no place names are mentioned. So you could argue that the Forest of Arden is a mythical place, or if you like, a state of mind.
"When you start working on an adaptation like this, I think you have to find the nuts and bolts of the story and then meet the difference between a 400-year-old text and a contemporary medium. So, what do you leave out? How do you tell the story with pictures? And how do you strike the balance between presenting the story and finding a visual language that lets the words that remain sing out? It's also about being bold enough — if you think there is a cinema narrative that is crying out to be followed — to sometimes abandon the structure of the play."
HBO presents the film in association with BBC Films and A Shakespeare Film Company Production. "As You Like It," adapted for the screen and directed by Kenneth Branagh, features a design team of Tim Harvey (production) and Susannah Buxton (costumes) Jenny Shircore (makeup and hair). The film also features music composed by Patrick Doyle.
For more information, visit hbo.com/films.