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Love's Labour's Lost Review

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Shakespeare's obscure play is reimagined by Branagh. Set in 1939 Cole and Porter numbers provide a musical backdrop to a romantic tale.

★★★★

As anyone who ever saw Kiss Me Kate will testify, setting Shakespeare to music is a formula as tried and tested as Kenneth Branagh filming the Bard's works in the first place. Love's Labour's Lost, his first attempt to bring Shakespeare to screen since 1996's splendid Hamlet, is one of the scribe's more obscure comedies, and boasts one of his flimsiest plots. Which is why bringing the setting up to 1939, and having the cast belt out Cole Porter and Gershwin numbers works so well, bringing substance to the story.

The plot structure follows the format of your average Shakespeare comedy; in this case, the boys are headed up by the King Of Navarre (Nivola) and his gang of mates (Branagh, Lillard and Lester), who have sworn off women for three years to concentrate on their studies. Until, that is, the Princess of France (Silverstone), and henchwomen (McElhone, Emily Mortimer, Carmen Ejogo), show up on his doorstep.

Meanwhile, in the comedy corner, Richard Briers dodders about as a local priest, Lane plays court jester and Timothy Spall almost steals the show with his heavily-accented rendition of I Get A Kick Out Of You. And that's it, except it's punctuated with familiar tunes (Cheek To Cheek, Fancy Free, Let's Face The Music And Dance...), all impeccably and imaginatively choreographed.

There are pitfalls in mainly choosing talented actors over trained singers - those cast members who do have a background in musicals upstage everybody else whenever they get the spotlight (to wit: Lester's breathtaking dance solo in I've Got A Crush On You).

That said, there's no-one here who genuinely can't sing or dance, and the story is handled well, with largely great performances from the cast (McElhone and Timothy Spall are standouts, as, inevitably, is Branagh). Weak links aside (Silverstone's princess doesn't quite convince, and the straight-faced ending fails miserably), this potentially risky venture is the kind of success that could signal a major revival for the musical genre. How about following it up with Steps Do Julius Caesar?

A curate's egg of a movie, redeemed by strong performances and imaginatively staged musical numbers.