One of Shakespeare's most popular and enduring comedies--TWELFTH NIGHT--gets the full treatment in this acclaimed production by the Renaissance Theatre Company and acclaimed director Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet, Much Ado About... more » Nothing).« less
Some excellent performances marred by a poor heroine
John L. Velonis | Dobbs Ferry, NY USA | 10/15/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This was originally a stage production, and it seems to have been "adapted" for TV by simply filming the actors on the single unchanging stage set and perhaps adding some fake snow. If you take it as such, it's not bad, but if you're expecting something along the lines of Branagh's "Henry V" or "Much Ado about Nothing", you may be disappointed. The Trevor Nunn version is much more cinematic and uses a gorgeous country manor house in Cornwall as the set.
My main problem with this production was the casting of two of the leads. Christopher Ravenscroft seems rather sheepish as Orsino, but much worse was Frances Barber (Viola/Cesario), whose facial expressions, as Dorothy Parker said of Katharine Hepburn, "ran the gamut of emotions from A to B." Moreover, Barber is so obviously female that it was impossible to muster the suspension of disbelief necessary to appreciate the emotional interplay between Viola and Olivia and Orsino.
On the other hand, Caroline Langrishe is "beauty truly blent" as Olivia, and maintains an appropriately regal bearing except when falling in love with Cesario/Sebastian. She is worth the price of the video by herself, but the low comedy actors are excellent as well, especially Abigail McKern as Maria, and Shaun Prendergast, who makes the tiny role of Fabian into a distinct and memorable character.
The text adheres faithfully to the First Folio, with only a few minor cuts. For some reason they left out the priest, which makes for a slight discontinuity in Act V.
The wintry setting is appealing (except for the Christmas tree and carol, which I found rather jarring). There are many amusing or enlightening bits of stage business, such as Fabian nimbly carrying the passed-out Feste offstage along with several bottles.
Patrick Doyle wrote the music (except for "Come Away, Death", whose melody is by Paul McCartney) and plays the piano offstage, accompanied by a horn, cello, and percussion. According to Branagh, this was Doyle's debut, and it shows -- the music for the songs doesn't seem to suit the text at all, and the main theme, though it seems intended to be dramatic, just sounds confused. Doyle did much better later with "Much Ado about Nothing." Anton Lesser as the Fool has a nice voice, but his intonation leaves something to be desired.
The DVD includes an interview with Kenneth Branagh, who gives a bit of information about the original stage production, but chiefly rambles on about the Jacobean subtext of the play. I would have appreciated some commentary by the actors, but I suppose after fifteen years they probably don't remember a great deal about it.
All in all, well worth watching, but if you haven't seen Twelfth Night before, you might want to start with the Trevor Nunn version instead."
A Winter In Illyria
RHC | 10/09/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This version of Twelfth Night is the best version I've ever seen, and so far, is only the second filmed version that follows the complete text of the play (the 1980 BBC version is the other).
This is the only film version that strongly emphasizes the issue of love and loneliness amidst a festive time of year, and allows the oft-abused gender-issue theme to dissipate into the background.
Branagh (courtesy of Shakespeare) brilliantly captures the other-world, eerie feeling of desolation and loneliness that comes with being sick in the heart and mind with hopeless love.
Set amid a wintry, dusty-white, snow garden backdrop, illuminated by dazzling, spectral blue lighting schemes, and later, pure, bright white lighting schemes, each scene emanates a beguiling, mysterious, other-worldly feeling that one feels while contemplatively walking alone through a forested/garden area on a midwinter's christmasesque day.
From the onset, we learn we are in the enchanted land of Illyria. The mythical stone statutes in the barren stone garden, the garish-gothic lighting, the melancholy rivulets of melodies, the foolish love-sick people, the foolish drunken people, all convey the feeling of a mystical Illyrian land filled with music, leisure, and hedonism.
But we quickly learn that beneath the enchantment, beneath the Christmas festivities, the foolish people are desparately isolated, alienated, and hopelessly full of burning, unrequited desires.
Present mirth hath present laughter, What's to come is still unsure...
Anton Lesser steals the production as Feste, the lonely, wandering clown who sees all and knows all.
Caroline Langrishe shines as Olivia, expertly shifting between feigned innocence and deceptive intellect.
James Simmons, James Saxon, and of course the great Richard Briers delightfully lampoon themselves for our amusement, while diligently conveying to us the desolation of a life without romantic love.
Christopher Ravenscroft is hot (I had to say it that way) as Orsino, and buffoons himself just enough to make us simultaneously laugh at him and pity him. In one key scene, Ravenscroft/Orsino allows us to believe that he knows Cesario is a female, and makes the same allowance to a stunned, confused, and even scared Cesario. That scene alone makes this film worth buying. It epitomizes the theme of the duality of human nature (the masks we wear), a theme that Shakespeare employs ad infinitum.
Thanks Ken for finally getting this released on DVD. "
Interesting But Not Arresting
C. Bond | San Francisco, California | 01/29/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"One hoped with KB directing that this would have more energy. Perhaps the winter setting was part of the damper, although I liked the interesting twist that winter placed on some of the lines. This had the slightly slow, "stagey" feel that one expects from British productions, but not from Branagh. The music was not good. This was interesting to watch for anyone who likes Shakespeare and the comparison of different productions. The best on DVD/Video that I have seen is the one where Ben Kingsley plays Feste."
Difficult to praise
S. McKinney | Indiana | 08/18/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Although I liked the effects of the "blue" winter scene and the mood it set, after awhile it seemed to lack imagination, as if a wintery scene and blue lighting are the only ways to express desolation and loneliness in the heart. And yes, I know it's supposed to be January, but still...
I didn't think there was any energy at all in this production. I don't know if the actors felt they had to move slowly to avoid doing damage to the unsteady sets or what, but everyone, even the comic players, seemed to be creeping around so hesitantly. And they didn't have much voice behind their characters - it felt to me as if they were proclaiming their lines instead of making their parts live and move and breathe.
My belief could not be suspended high enough to believe that the glorious Olivia could be so smitten by the awkward, worried-looking Cesario. It was pitiful.
I found it unutterably dull and not even the happy ending could redeem it. I was really disappointed with this production. I expected so much more from it."
An enchanting diversion
Allan M. Lees | Novato, CA USA | 07/29/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Twelfth Night is one of the Comedies, meaning a light piece intended to divert and amuse. The premise is simple enough: near-identical siblings, a youth and a maiden of noble birth, are shipwrecked and thanks to the actions of benign protectors end up unbeknownst to each other in the same foreign country Illyria, each thinking the other drowned.
Viola, the maiden, casting off her "woman's weeds" takes the guise of a young man and enters into service of the Count Orsino, who is attempting to woo his love-object the fair Olivia. Viola, in her guise as Cesario, is dispatched to press Orsino's cause. Instead, Olivia falls in love with Viola/Cesario while Viola/Cesario falls in love with her master Orsino. Meanwhile Sebastian, Viola's brother, slowly makes his way towards the love-triangle that is developing in his absence. A classic comedy of mistaken identity, in other words, with a plot-line that could be leaden and obvious to a fault.
But this play charms instead of grates because the comedic parts are so wonderfully portrayed. The jester Feste is perfect and Richard Briars gives a once-in-a-lifetime performance as the egregious Malvolio and accomplishes a minor miracle in causing us to feel real sympathy for him in the last act.
Of course this is old-world drama and anyone who expects the twin leads of Viola and Sebastian to resemble each other as near-identical will be grievously disappointed. This is, after all, theatre and entertainment. It was written to be performed in the afternoon to an audience rapt with the consumption of hot pies and with their attention straying to games of cards and dice. We are a long way from Hollywood here. So a viewer unaccustomed to Shakespeare or Ben Johnson or Kitt or Webster is likely to be unimpressed. Yet listen a moment to the words, to the lyric beauty that even after four hundred years can stir the soul, and suddenly it doesn't seem so silly that Olivia falls under the spell of Cesario's golden tongue. Set aside the desire for fast-paced action scenes and in a trice Malvolio's wretched loneliness and sense of grievance leaps to the fore and we acknowledge that his punishment exceeded his offence. In other words, allow yourself to experience this play as it was meant to be experienced, and the result is magical.
While not all the cast quits itself majestically, all performances are worthy and the over-arching effect is totally satisfying. We are not here for the sturm und drang of Othello or Hamlet or Macbeth; we are here for gentle sorrow and love requited in the end. Shakespeare takes a flimsy plot device and has crafted it into a vehicle for the tender exploration of loneliness, of personal isolation, and of redemption through love. For what it is, it is perfectly done and to be treasured like a fine old wine."