26 June 2003 | Ron Oliver
Come Dally In Arden's Forest
Dressed as a boy, a banished noblewoman meets her equally unfortunate suitor in a forest and teases with his affections.
In AS YOU LIKE IT, a young, virile Sir Laurence Olivier leaps & cavorts his way through his first appearance in a Shakespearean feature film, his magnificent voice cajoling every line. To those viewers only aware of his late career before his 1989 death, an elderly lion enfeebled by terrible long-standing diseases, his athletic performance here will be a wonderful revelation. Although the plot requires him to behave blindly inane at times, fancifully wooing the boy who is actually his disguised ladylove, the future Lord Olivier is never anything less than compelling. Still nearly a decade away from the first of his own filmed Shakespearean productions - HENRY V (1945) - Sir Laurence here shows he is already a complete master of the Bard's verse.
As Rosalind, and earning top billing, Austrian actress Elisabeth Bergner more than holds her own against Olivier. Her strong Teutonic accent is at variance with everyone else in the cast and she probably would not have received the role had she not been married to the director/producer, but this in no way should disparage her skills as an actress. Fetching & lovely and with a thorough grasp of her lines, Miss Bergner is a constant delight to watch. The comedy keeps her in male costume most of the time and it is important to remember that she is not really supposed to be a convincing boy. Bowing to the plot's absurdities, she is to provide some laughs and moments of reflection at the expense of the other characters and this Miss Bergner accomplishes most handily.
A very fine collection of British character actors supply their ample talents to the proceedings. Sir Felix Aylmer is wonderfully wicked as the usurping Duke. John Laurie oozes evil as Olivier's murderous elder brother. Lovely Sophie Stewart provides playful fun as Miss Bergner's faithful cousin. Beefy Lionel Braham scores as a braggadocio wrestler. Mackenzie Ward is properly impertinent as Touchstone the Fool. Peter Bull is hilarious in his only scene as an idiotic youth. As in the play, the sardonic Jacques (well played by Leon Quartermaine) is given one of Shakespeare's loveliest soliloquies, the famous Seven Ages of Man speech.
The entire film is given a sumptuous production which is most pleasing to the eye. A glance down its credits reveals something of its fine pedigree: Sir James M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, suggested the treatment - which meant he helped in the adaptation of Shakespeare's play to the screen; Sir David Lean, later to be a director of great importance, was responsible for the film's editing.