This movie is awful. This movie is brilliant. Either way, Peter Hall brings *A Midsummer Night's Dream* off the screen and into your gut. The trick lies in enjoying the sensation of being disoriented: the film opens; it rains English rain; an English bird chirps; we see a stately English mansion; the word on the screen reads "ATHENS". The joke has begun.
But the film is more than a joke. Hall's filming constantly jars the viewer and wakes him/her up to the fact that logic and continuity are just concepts that we impose on an essentially chaotic world. At one moment Lysander and Hermia are in the court -- cut to them in a boat (although no time appears to have passed). Helena recites a soliloquy and, while doing so, pops up disconcertingly next to a pillar and then a bush and then a tree. We see Titania and Oberon run towards each other and come face to face -- only to cut to a view of them running towards each other all over again. Time, as in *Hamlet*, is out of joint. The performances are muted, almost sullen. The atmosphere, dark. And everyone gets muddy.
This film is not light and bright and sparkling, but it's a treat to see young Helen Mirren, Diana Rigg, Ian Holm and Judi Dench (watch her age, classically, through *Henry V*, *Hamlet* and *Shakespeare in Love*). The film, too, reveals how embedded in culture our Shakespeare is: the women wear eyeliner a la sixties; Hippolyta is in a leather miniskirt and go-go boots, and the fairies are very green partially naked flower children. The magic plant, love-in-idleness, is the drug of choice. Enjoy this dark ride through *A Midsummer Night's Dream.* Better yet, make an enormous bowl of popcorn and watch it back-to-back with the new version starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Do, however, make sure it's a very big bowl of popcorn.