Branagh's Shakespeare Far Superior In the UK: Love's Labour's Lost

In 2000, when Kenneth Branagh's latest (at the time) Shakespeare adaptation, the underrated Love's Labour's Lost, came out on DVD, the UK didn't just get it a couple months earlier, they also got it better. I've never seen anyone compare the US and UK releases before (except dvdcompare's look at the fundamental specs), and I've never really bothered to myself until now. But having just borrowed a copy of Miramax's US DVD and really delving into the differences between that and the Pathe edition, I'm surprised what a clear winner of them is. And it makes me extra happy that I was impatient and imported rather than waiting the extra months for a local disc.  (=
One of the appeals of all of Branagh's Shakespeares is that, unlike most Hollywood adaptations, he doesn't dumb down or modernize the language. He uses the the original writing and uses the immense talents of himself and his cast to make them still effective for contemporary audiences. Mind you, he's not the only filmmaker to have done this, there are some amazing Shakespeare films out there by the likes of Trevor Nunn, Laurence Olivier and others (another hint of future posts you can probably expect). But Branagh's gotta be one of the most consistently at the top of the list.
And that's not to say his films are dry or scholarly. Indeed, while the bard's words are all original, he's updated the setting to a 1930s musical, and great songs by the likes of Cole Porter and George Gershwin have been inserted into the play. They're big, glorious musical numbers on broad, theatrical sets with a fitting sense of unreality. that somehow manage to match the tone of Shakespeare's lesser known comedy perfectly. Branagh knows how to succeed on the entertainment end of the spectrum just as well as the academic. I mean, he's got the one and only Nathan Lane as Costard the fool. And admittedly, it can look from the outside that maybe Kenneth leaned a little too heavily towards the entertainment side this time around, casting American movie stars like Drew Barrymore and Matthew Lillard rather than some of the RSC heavyweights he's used in the past. But he understands just how to use their strengths, I'd clever casting is one of Branagh's more hidden talents; and frankly, he doesn't give Lillard much of the dramatic lifting.
Miramax's US DVD on top; Pathe's UK disc underneath.
This film is beautifully shot in vividly colorful 'scope. Although the colors are pretty faded and muted on the US disc. It's also less 'scope, coming in at 2.30:1 as opposed to the UK's 2.40:1. This results in considerable amount lost on the sides, and even a bit along the bottom of Miramax's DVD. You can hardly blame US audiences for failing to appreciate this film as keenly as European viewers when this is what they were given. The magically blue, softly hued lake is just grim and grey in the shot above.
Extras-wise, too, the UK comes out well ahead. They start out with some good features in common: five deleted scenes, a light 'making of' featurette (it's only about 8 minutes, but at least it's not made up of lots of clips from the movie we've just seen), and an amusing outtake reel. But then the US DVD misses out on the most important feature of them all: an audio commentary by Kenneth Branagh. And it's a good one, too; he's interested and has a lot to share. But for whatever reason, you don't get to hear it in the US. And just for a little extra salt, only Pathe's disc has the trailer.
So the UK is clearly the one to own, it wins by a large margin. Of course, looking at these screenshots, I can't help but notice how much they would benefit from a fresh HD scan. Even the superior shots are clearly compressed, soft and lacking detail. And considering how this was shot, I think seeing it treated on blu-ray could be a huge revelation. But that may well be a long way off, if it comes along at all, so you might want to snag that Pathe disc in the meantime. But hopefully it will get the release it deserves someday, and if that release is state-side, it had better remember to include the commentary.

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