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A duke usurps his brother's land and power, banishing him and his retinue into the forest of Arden. The banished duke's daughter, Rosalind, remains with her cousin Celia. She has fallen in love with Orlando, but he has his own tyrannical brother to contend with, so he joins those in the forest. Rosalind, now banished, disguises herself as a young man, with Celia as her servant, and follows Orlando into the forest. There, nature stirs love's fires in various rustics as well as in those from the court. Phebe, a shepherdess loved by Silvius, is herself smitten with the disguised Rosalind. Can true love find a way, and can brothers be reconciled and harmony restored? Written by
AS YOU LIKE IT is an odd duck among the major plays of Shakespeare that have been filmed. It is one of the three top romantic comedies (with MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and TWELFTH NIGHT) that Shakespeare wrote, but none of them have been favorites for film (not like A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM). MUCH ADO recently was redone by Kenneth Branagh, but not as well received as his HAMLET and HENRY V. AS YOU LIKE IT was done a few times on television, but not as a film - except for this 1936 version.
AS YOU LIKE IT is set in the forest of Arden. Most of the characters are in hiding there or have been exiled there. The local Duke has been overthrown by his brother (Duke Frederick / Felix Aylmer) and exiled there. His courtiers followed. Lawrence Olivier is the son of a favorite of the old Duke, so he is not in favor with Aylmer. He is also finding life difficult with his older brother Oliver (John Laurie), who is consumed with jealousy. So Orlando (Olivier)flees to save his own life, and is soon at the court in the forest of Arden. The true Duke's daughter, Rosalind (Elisabeth Bergner), has also fled with her cousin Celia (Sophia Stewart), because Aylmer is unhappy at his niece's continuous appearance at the regular court.
Rosalind (in the plot) pretends to be a young boy, who tries to teach Orlando what real love is. He is full of the courtly love that percolated in European intellectual circles at the time, and Rosalind slowly makes Orlando realize how it is artificial (listen to her dismiss the idea of dying over a broken heart). Slowly she makes Orlando a fit lover - a real lover - for herself in her genuine person.
The forest becomes a place where truth keeps emerging out of the trees and bushes. One of the old Duke's closest friends, Jacques, gives the most famous speech of the play, "the seven ages of man". In it he describes the seven different roles played by men in life, from infancy to old age. Jacques is a melancholic figure, and he is balanced in the plot by Rosalind and Celia's servant, the fool Touchstone, who also demonstrates what makes a real lover in his easy dismissal of his rival William (Peter Bull, as a rather dumb rustic) over a shepherdess. Eventually even Oliver / Laurie ends up in the forest (Laurie is sent there because he is blamed for Duke Frederick's daughter's fleeing with Rosalind).
A bare recital of the play's plot is not as good as watching it. In truth, even with Bergner's accent, she gives one of the most charming performances in Shakespearean film. The personality that made her the leading actress in Austria and Germany carries well in her English films. Olivier, for an early film, does a good job - his youth aiding the character's education in the plot, and his good looks being shown to advantage. Aylmer, Laurie, Bull, Mackenzie Ward (Touchstone), and Leon Quartermain (Jacques) do the most with their parts. One wishes more of the play had been included, but the reduced size is not a big problem for the viewer. As an introduction to reading the play, and seeing a complete production, the 1936 film is pretty good.
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