Starring: Imogen Stubbs, Helena Bonham Carter, Nigel Hawthorne, Mel Smith, Toby Stephens, Richard E Grant, Imelda Staunton, Ben Kingsley
Shakespeare has done quite well fiml wise in recent years. Kenneth Brannagh has helped a lot with that, but the popularity of costume drama and the classics means that we have had a Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, and Othello recently. Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are on the way. Twelfth Night has long been one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies, and respected theatre director Trevor Nunn has gathered together a selection of fine British actors to try to sell the story to a wider audience.
Twins Viola and Sebastian are sepearated by a storm at sea, and we follow Viola as she decides to take up a disguise as a boy and serve the duke Orsino. The noble duke is in love with the lady Olivia, who does not return his affections. He sends Viola, now called Cesario, to plead his case. However, Cesario speaks so eloquently that Olivia falls for Cesario. Meanwhile Viola/Cesario has fallen in love with Orsino! More complication arise when Sebastian turns out not to have died and also arrives.
One problem with the play has always been that the confusions just are not believable. Surely Orsino and Olivia can see through the disguise? Here, Imogen Stubbs is actually a very authentic boy. She has a little moustache, which certainly helps! But this Viola has obviously thought out how a boy moves and carries himself, as she is pretty convincing. It is almost believable that Olivia could fall for this lad. The actor playing her twin brother Sebastian is also quite a lot like Stubbs, although a 6 inch height difference would stand out surely. The film looks wonderful, as we have come to expect these days. Stagey old productions won't do! The locations are chiefly in Cornwall, more particularly St Michael's Mount near Falmouth, which is a really fairy tale looking island. This is Orsino's court, suitably imposing.
In any Shakespeare production, the task of the director is not merely to tell the story, after all, Shakespeare's plots were never that original. The director must try to find some new way to present the tale. Recent films have tried to make the plays more accessible to a wider audience. To bring the story and characters alive in a way that people do not expect.
Trevor Nunn is well served by his cast. Helena Bonham Carter seems to have been born in a period dress! She and Toby Stephens do very well with the sometimes difficult parts of the blind lovers who cannot see through Viola/Cesariio's disguise. Stephens is a brooding, slightly menacing duke. He has an intensity that is magnetic, and could well be a big star, in my view. Mel Smith and Richard E Grant make a good team as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Smith is a particularly malicious and slobbish Sir Toby, while Grant is excellent at the foppish bits, but brings a successful note of pathos to his character at times. Nigel Hawthorne is a very stiff Malvolio. Of course, pompous and priggish. Hawthorne is not a particularly likeable Malvolio. Add to this the way Nunn portrays the sardonic and sharp fool, Feste played by Ben Kingsley, and we can see the director has not gone for laughs in this comedy. There is an acidic and bitter tone to many of the exchanges between these characters.
There has been some talk of promoting this film as a transvestite film. Before, the Birdcage, Priscilla, or To Wong Foo there was Twelfth Night! Sometimes, there is no real attempt to hide the sex of Viola, and the disguise is imagined. Here, the very masculine manner of Stubbs as Cesario adds a nice duality that is convincing here, where it may be funny on stage as it is so implausible. Also, the character of Antonio seems to be VERY fond of Sebastian, and follows him to Orsino's court even though his life is in danger there. Also of note on this theme is Orsino's affection for the boy Cesario. Gender roles are not clearly defined here, and it is played for real, not for laughs. I enjoyed this film very much. It is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays, and I think many people who aren't big fans of the Bard would like this film.8/10
Back to Movies
Back to index