While a number of versions have been made over the years, and most people who graduated high school where English was the primary language have had to read it at least once, here’s a brief plot synopsis:
Orlando is the youngest son of a gentleman, and his older brother treats him like crap. So he manages to beat a big guy in a fight in order to win some cash, and during this fight Rosalind and her cousin see him and Rozzie goes all gooey-eyed.
Meanwhile, Rozzie’s uncle, Duke Frederick (Felix Aylmer), has banished his brother (her dad) because he thinks him a traitor…and maybe wanted a snazzy palace for himself. He decides Roz must go too, even though his own daughter is completely codependent and claims she cannot live without Roz by her side. Well, they run away to the forest together, Roz dressing like a dude and cousin Celia (played here by Sophie Stewart) making herself all peasanty.
In another part of the forest, Orlando’s obsession with Roz has made him carve her name on half the trees, and post flowery poetry on the other half. (Where a guy alone in the woods in 1600’s France is supposed to get that much parchment and ink I don’t know.) Roz and Celia run into Orlando, and he’s duped into believing their false identities. Roz (calling herself Ganymede) offers to cure his obsession by making Orlando woo him (Roz/Ganymede) as if he were Rosalind.
Then we get a Shakespearean change of heart, change of clothing, triple wedding, Deus Ex Messenger, and a Happily Ever Epilogue.
The film was directed by Paul Czinner, based on a treatment by J. M. Barrie (yes, that J. M. Barrie). While Olivier was no stranger to Shakespeare, this is the first time he played a Billy Spears role on film. He was, in fact, filming As You Like It during the day, and then nipping off to perform in stage in Romeo and Juliet at night.
While the script was cut down by 30-35%, the performers do quite a bit of
which was common at the time for Shakespearean performances. Bergner and Stewart are overly demonstrative, flinging their arms up over their eyes when crying, melting into despondent puddles of woe on the floor. Aylmer as Duke Frederick is almost a parody of a villain, possessing only archetypal Bad Guy characteristics like a goatee and all-black clothing. Olivier is one of the only performers who approaches a dimensional character, but even he is quite broad in gesture and slow in speech.
The film runs 96 minutes, and the print is pretty decent. The sound is a little wobbly at times, and if you have trouble with unfamiliar accents, Bergner’s German-tinged speech may occasionally be a little tough to decipher. The sets and costumes are lovely, though Rosalind as Ganymede still wears a heck of a lot of eye shadow and lipstick.
If you would like to watch it for yourself. As You Like It is available for FREE at the Internet Archive.
If you are an Olivier fan, you can also check out his performances in 49th Parallel, a colorized version of the 1940 Pride and Prejudice, or perhaps Fire Over England, which also features Vivien Leigh.
On our blog, Cheryl had some thoughtful words concerning Jacque’s speech from this play, the one about all the world being a stage.
Keep your eyes peeled in late April when I’ll be posting a big Shakespeare round-up.