Friday, September 07, 2007

Movie Log: Twelfth Night

The Wife and I watched Kenneth Branagh's 1988 version of Twelfth Night Sunday and Monday nights, mostly because we keep hoping he'll catch the same fire he did with Much Ado About Nothing (still one of our favorite movies). Twelfth Night is much earlier in Branagh's career; he doesn't appear in it at all; and it's clearly just a straight filming of a specific stage production.

Let me underline that last bit: it's very stagy, and very much a low-budget British TV production, with the usual slamming doors leading to shaking scenery. That can be charming sometimes, and the camera work in Twelfth Night was good in mostly hiding the fact that everyone was standing five feet away from each other and facing forward, but I'm afraid the set let down the side badly. It's all white, and consists of a front door over there, random classical-looking yard furniture and accouterments hither and yon, and gives a general sense of being in a graveyard. (Everything looks white and made out of stone, and it's all low.) There have been a certain number of comedies set in graveyards, but I don't think Twelfth Night was meant to be one of them.

(Not that I know Twelfth Night well at all; this was the first production of it I've seen.)

I didn't recognize anyone in it, and many of them do that Shakespearean talking-way-too-fast-to-prove-that-they-know-their-lines-really-well thing. The guy playing the Fool did a pseudo-annoying-Goth-poet thing, though I'm not sure if he was meant to be quite as annoying as I found him. (He was insufferable, to be blunt.)

And, far be it from me to criticize Shakespeare, but...the mistaken identity plot turns up very late, and is fairly weak. Each of the two people mistaken for the other is clearly called by the wrong name, but they don't seem to notice it. Yes, farces often could collapse like a souffle if one person in the story questioned the plot, but usually, I hope, the question takes more than the one second of "But my name's not Sebastian." (And this could have been fixed easily if Viola, in her grief, had chosen her brother's name as her nom de guerre -- yes, once again, Boy Editor Andy wishes he had been around to give literary giants first-draft criticism back in the day.)

I think this would be of most interest to people who know and like Twelfth Night; it seems to be a good production of the play. And The Wife and I basically enjoyed it, once our ears took the ten minutes to reboot on Elizabethan English. (We find it takes about that long for pure Shakespearean dialogue to turn from blah blah blah into actual coherent sentences.) But anyone looking for much Branagh here, as I was, will be disappointed.


Paul Weimer said...

Have you seen the Twelfth Night version directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia?

Anonymous said...

Paul's right. That's the one to see! It is out on DVD.

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