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Cymbeline - BBC

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4 out of 5 stars 1 review from Amazon.com us-flag |

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars 1 review
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good case for a problematic play 29 Mar. 2010
By Matthew Davidson - Published on Amazon.com
John Keats notwithstanding, Cymbeline is unlikely to rank very high in the canon with most contemporary audiences. It relies on a series of plot contrivances that do not bear much scrutiny, and the addition of Jupiter descending on a golden eagle-- rather than providing a divine framework that makes the knotty twists plausible-- seems more preposterous than unifying. The central story (an ostensibly virtuous husband who casually accepts a wager that hinges on an attempted seduction of his wife) is also deeply problematic, giving the distinct impression that Posthumous values Imogen primarily as property (although, to be fair, he does suffer and grow through the course of the drama).

That said, this production makes a fair case for the play. Director Elijah Moshinsky knows how to move the camera for dramatic effect (so many of the entries in the BBC series are depressingly static), and his predilection for clever shots and angles (often involving reflections in mirrors) is in full evidence here. He also re-arranges and trims a fair amount in the last two acts-- which is just as well, since the pruning nicely advances an ending that is, quite frankly, a bit of a bore as written (Act V in particular seems interminable).

I have mixed feeling about the two principal performances (Helen Mirren as Imogen and Michael Pennington as Posthumous). Both take a while to warm-up to their respective roles (both almost underplaying at the beginning), and both descend, at times, to stagy performances that seem designed to play to a much bigger "hall" than the television screen. Pennington, in particular, flirts with going over-the-top at times at the end, but I wonder if this was not a conscious direction by Moshinsky (to lend a little dramatic urgency to the seemingly never-ending set of revelations that tie the plot strands together). Similarly, Mirren's performance also gives the impression of being, at times, a shade too studied, but I will freely admit there were other moments when I was genuinely moved. I particularly admire her subtle shift in vocal tone when playing the part of Fidele; the "woman masquerading as a boy" bit does not translate as well to the screen as some of Shakespeare's other familiar plot devices, so it is nice when an actress actually makes some concession to the fact that she is supposed to be impersonating the opposite sex. On the whole, her performance is the more convincing of the two, but, my quibbles aside, both do the play credit.

The secondary performances are certainly competent and, on the whole, quite compelling. Paul Jesson's Cloten is played for laughs and is quite funny at times. Robert Lindsay delivers a truly creepy mock-seduction scene as Iachimo (although his acting is a little broad in Act V). Claire Bloom is perhaps a little too understated in the role of the evil stepmother; I'm not entirely sure the caricature would not have been more appropriate in this context. Richard Johnson is suitably gruff as the title character. Michael Hordern also has a memorable cameo as Jupiter (thankfully sans toga, lightning bolts, and golden eagle).

This production, then, is certainly worth seeing, particularly since the play is so seldom performed and is, for this reason, unlikely to be adapted again for film anytime soon. If the marketplace sellers are asking more than $35 for this, I would suggest ordering it directly from Ambrose Video (who distributes the BBC series in the U.S.).
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