The Story of William Shakespeare's

The Story as told by Kenneth Branagh

A black and white newsreel introduces us to Navarre in the 1930's, where we learn that the King of Navarre has just proclaimed that he and his court shall devote themselves to study--and study alone--for a term of three years. Why, exactly, he takes this oath, is unclear, but royal misery demands company, and so three young men, Longaville, Dumain, and the court wit Berowne (pronouned Bihronn) have to swear the oath along with the King. The list, tacked to wall of a kind of fantasy Oxbridge, is headed by "No Women". A sign is hung on the palace gate: "No Ladies May Enter".

Dumain and Longaville sign the document with smiles, Berowne balks. Fast one day a week? One meal a day? Sleeping only three hours a night? And no women? Berowne reads the itemized list: If a woman comes within a mile of the court, she loses her tongue. If a man talks to a woman, he is subjected to "such public shame as the rest of the court can devise." (Talk about a double standard.) Ooops--the Princess of France is arriving shortly, and the King instantly backpedals, of "necessity". Berowne warns that they'll all break their oaths ("Necessity will make us all foresworn, three thousand times within this three years' space") keenly observing that you can't forbid love through force of edict. ("For very man with his affects is born, not by might mastered but by special grace.") Berowne signs, clearly under duress. Then, in a weakness of his own, he brags that he will be the last to break his oath. The set-up.

In the blink of an eye we find someone's already been arrested--it's the vaudevillian Costard the great, who's strolled with pretty-faced Jaquenetta in the park and been called on the court carpet by the straight-faced, no-nonsense Constable Dull. Dull delivers to the King the culprit and an accusatory letter from the Spanish visitor Don Armado. Armado is a phantasm meant for fanciful diversion while the boys study. His fantastical words and conduct are as incomprehensible as his fabulous style of mustache; while Dogberry inverts his meanings, Armado circumlocutes them to another planet entirely. No matter--it's a snitch letter, and guilty Costard is put under the watch of tattle-tale Armado. Needless to say, Armado snitched because he'sin love with Jaquenetta--and her shoe, foot, and the ground she walks on.

The Princess of France, and her three irresistible color-coded companions in this love-dance, sail in at night with Boyet, their attendant, and are met at the gates. Sorry ladies! No, they can't come in, but they can camp out if they like. They do so, in satin pajamas and Busby-Berkeley sleeping bags. But not before Boyet identifies each and every lady to the arrow-struck men in turn.

Armado sets Costard free--provided Costard delivers a love letter to Jaquenetta. Costard agrees, and in the very next moment is hired by Berowne to deliver some verses (actually penned by Jerome Kern) to his beloved Rosaline in blue. Will Costard deliver true or mix up the letters? In the park, to the Princess and her ladies, Costard delivers the letter meant for Jaquenetta from the "heroical vassal" Armado. Whoops! On a different bench in the park, Costard and Jaquenetta interrupt some high-brow academic chat ("feeding of the dainties that are bred in a book") between schoolmistress Holofernia and Sir Nathanial, a curate (not a Band-aid, a priest). Costard gives Holfernia the verses from Berowne/Kern, and via the ensemble we see and hear exactly how Berowne feels a glow just thinking of her . . . and the way she looked last night.

Back in the library, Berowne's in love, Benedict-style. ("O, but her eye--by this light, but for her eyes I would not love her; yes, for her two eyes.") One by one the boys enter with their heads full of love, not books. Hiding this fact from each other, they are forced finally to confess ("I have been closely shrouded in this bush"), each in humiliating turn, until Berowne--the first of the four to fall--admonishes them with false self righteousness.

But--what's this? Costard, of course, right on cue--with Berowne's own hand against him. Ack! After a doubletake, Berowne futilely tries to destroy the evidence but is shamed into confession. Guilty as the rest. ("He, he, and you, my liege, e'en you, and I are pick-purses in love and deserve to die.") In exiting with Jaquenetta, Costard has his absolution, vindiction and satisfaction ("Walk aside the true folk, and let the traitorsstay") besides.

Berowne, though, is not so easily undone--he unleashes one of the most beautiful and memorable "I-told-you-so's" in all of Shakespeare. "Love first learned in a lady's eyes . . . adds a precious seeing to the eye. A lover's eyes will gaze an eagle blind." Berowne finds valour in love, a natural and kingly state of youth. "And when love speaks, the voice of all the gods makes heaven drowsy with the harmony." Heaven . . . and you can't help but laugh out loud at the silly way love makes the impossible possible.

Happily resigned to love, the boys throw themselves into wooing the girls of France with all they've got. Those girls don't stand a chance. Masked, the overconfident boys will dance with them and win their hearts. But hold on to your seat! Trusty Boyet has overheard the planned onslaught by the boys, and over color-matched drinks at the courtyard cafe, the Princess and her posse decide to switch masks, mocking the boys who wouldn't at first even receive them except "in the fields." It takes two to tango, boys. (Okay, eight.)

A blend of modern musical traditions, the Fosse-style hot musical dance number "Let's Face the Music and Dance" mis-pairs the couples. The lyrics foreshadow and drive the plot: "There may be trouble ahead, but while there's music and moonlight, and love and romance--let's face the music and dance." And do they ever.

Victorious (they believe), the boys return unmasked to claim their goods, and take them to the court--but the Princess refuses ("This field shall hold me" and teases them further with a tale of some foolish masked men who came to entertain them. Their jest unmasked, the boys, through Berowne (with a choice string of epithets for Boyet, who had clued in the ladies in) promise henceforth to behave.

The planned entertainment for the evening ensues--The Pageant of the Nine Worthies, aka Costard and crew, doing timesteps and trenches like no business I know. No where can you get that happy feeling, when you are stealing--that extra bow. The whole gang gets in on the act, and all's well until Mercade (whose face tells you its bad news) shows up. ("Worthies away, the scene begins to cloud.")

The Princess learns of her father's death--and the party's over, she and the girls are leaving. When the King of Navarre asks what's up with that--Berowne steps in as mouthpiece ("By these badges understand the king") and bemoans the spell they've been put under. So it's really all the girls'fault they've slipped from their studies and foresworn themselves. (Were men ever so?)

The Princess rejoins that she thought they were just fooling around --but if the King is serious, he can hang out for year ("go with speed to some forlorn and naked hermitage"), cool off while she mourns for her dad, and then they'll be an item. In private conferences, Dumain and Longaville get the same one-year term.

And to Berowne. Soft-voiced, and fixing beloved Rosaline with his blue eyes, he implores her to name his future. "Behold the window of my heart, mine eye. What humble suit attends thy answer there! Impose some service on me for thy love." No naked hermitage for Berowne. To drain his wounding flouts and merciless wit, he must use his verbal jousts to make the unwell smile. Under Rosaline's orders, he'll "jest a twelve-month in an hospital." A soft kiss, then, to soften the sentence.

Later, as the girls are about to depart, a sober Berowne observes to the King that it's not the usual boy-gets-girl ("Our wooing doth not end like an old play, Jack hath not Jill.") When the King replies that it's only a year and a day, Berowne's musing is bittersweet ("That's too long for a play.")

War is coming and it's time to go, but the memory of all that-- No, no, they can't take that away from these lovers. Still, the troubles of eight lonely people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, and the girls have got to get on that plane for France. Cue the hats. So for now--you that way, we this way.

The misfortunes of war unfold in a newsreel, but everyone chips in, hangs tough, and as the black and white of history gives way to the colours of love reunited, they--and we--are here, together, yet standing, victorious in the human spirit.

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For the Love's Labour's Lost page, click here.

For the Story of Love's Labour's Lost page, click here.

For the Making of Love's Labour's Lost page, click here. Includes interviews, articles and essays.

For more essays and commentary on Love's Labour's Lost, click here.

For Trust Kenneth Branagh - - Belfast Telegraph amd Guardian interviews, click here. Interviews and photos: Kenneth Branagh talks about work, and about bringing Love's Labour's Lost to the screen.

For a pair of personal interviews conducted by The London Times following the completion of Love's Labour's Lost click here.

For the studio production notes for Love's Labour's Lost, click here.

For reviews of Love's Labour's Lost, click here.

For the official website of Love's Labour's Lost click here.

For Branagh's thoughts on the film (from the LLL official website), click here.

For Love's Labour's Lost and more in the Guardian interview with Kenneth Branagh at the National Film Theatre's 1999 Branagh retrospective, click here.

For an interview with composer Patrick Doyle on the music in Love's Labour's Lost and more, click here.

For the official Spanish LLL site, click here.

For the official Italian LLL site, click here.

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