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This review is from: Twelfth Night [DVD]  (DVD)
I have fifty English pounds and a stunning cast that could perform any Shakespearean play. Let's make a film! This could easily explain the reason Trevor Nunn has brought Shakespeare's Twelfth Night to the big screen. Only his third attempt at directing film; credit where credit is due, Nunn has succeeded in providing a simple but effective adaptation of the original text.
A miniscule budget and distinct lack of cinematic devices (although bestowed with Cornwall's magnificent scenery) suggests a dismal hope of a box office smash. However, that does not mean that Twelfth Night is not worth watching. Whilst it relies heavily on the comic aspects within the original text, it therefore provides an informative insight to themes and characterisation. Yet Nunn cannot be accused of being naÔve to the demands of a modern audience, shaping Shakespeare's lines to lacerate callously, invoking eminent and prevailing emotion. Nunn has far from rejected the play's evident connotations to `Comedy of Errors', revelling in slapstick comedy and mistaken identity. Twelfth Night pursues the tale of two mixed-sex twins, separated in a dramatic shipwreck both assume the other has perished. When Viola adorns her brother's persona for better protection all sorts of mayhem and foibles transgress as fate draws them back together.
Nunn's decision to set the film in the 1890's is the most peculiar aspect of the film, although the Merchant's costume suggests subtle connotations towards the Boer War. The other period dress, incredibly, succeeds as a composition. Nunn has not attempted a completely contemporary approach but has implied that Shakespeare's words are still prominent throughout history.
The truly gritty, dark and intense approach to the text, especially regarding the camera shots (close-ups are utilised particularly efficiently) and cinematography, is compounded by what can only be described as a brilliant and radiant cast. Even the smaller roles are played with a conviction that would make any production team proud. Maria's (Ismelda Staunton) understated role provides a sense of humanity through desire to the character of Sir Toby that would otherwise be lost. Richard. E. Grant in the role of Sir Aguecheek devises a suave chemistry between himself and Mel Smith (as Sir Toby) that propels them into the realm of comedy duo genius, reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy's interaction and physical appearance.
Imogen Stubbs is indisputably enchanting as Viola and compared to the pastel, youthful complexion of Sebastian (Steven Mackintosh) plausibly achieves the transition between genders. Nunn excels himself by including the palpable sexual tension between the dashing Duke Orsino (Toby Stephens) and his manservant Cesario, the skilfully disguised Viola. Using composition close-ups that provide an intensity and realism that only enhance the virtuosity of Shakespeare's lines. Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter who looks as though she has just stepped out of a Rossetti painting) brings innocence and poignancy to her unfeasible desire for Cesario. Tearing the audience between comedy and tragedy, her desperation for love emphasises how the play itself totters precariously on the edge of disaster.
The complexity of the situation is developed by the sinister element of humour established by Sir Toby, Sir Aguecheek and Maria as they deservedly exploit Malvolio's flaws as an avaricious, ambitious character. However, Nigel Hawthorne's (Malvolio) mesmerising portrayal of a pompous yet vulnerable character, invokes pathos amongst the audience. As he leaves the court forever, it provides a poignant and unbalanced end; Nunn's directing highlights the events have not resulted in opulence for all.
Feste is particularly evocative as the anarchic, idiosyncratic but wise fool present in a number of Shakespeare's works. Ben Kingsley immerses himself in the role, creating a superiority that scorns the other actors, adding a dimension and theme of observation to the film. His contribution to the music ergo, rhythm the scenes in which he is present is another reason his performance stands out. Interchanging between diegetic and non-diegetic songs, his melancholy but seductive voice is an aural delicacy. Sound, plays a crucial part in this adaptation of Twelfth Night and Nunn's awareness of production elements is startlingly clear. As Viola is scrambling ashore, the disjointed arpeggio as the keys of the piano are swept aground is symbolic of the confusion and distress that is exuded from her character.
Renaissance Films have undoubtedly spent far less than on other Shakespearean adaptations (for example, Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing) but should be exceptionally satisfied with Trevor Nunn's original and considered approach to such a vastly well-known and undeniably daunting comedy. The film is one of elegance and dignity (produced without bias or agenda) and at no point degrades itself for cheap laughs or sympathetic humour but retains confidence in the lines and this is something that makes it stand out amongst many.