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Twelfth Night 1996

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The classic Shakespearean comedy about mistaken identity and gender confusion is brought to the screen once again in this British production, courtesy of screenwriter-director Trevor Nunn. Nunn has transferred the time period to the Victorian Era of the late 19th century. Two twins, Viola (Imogen Stubbs) and Sebastian (Steven MacKintosh), are separated when their ship capsizes. Each believes that the other has drowned. Viola washes ashore on the coast of Illyria. She disguises herself as a man and assumes the name Cesario so that she can take a position as an aide to the Duke, Orsinio (Toby Stephens). Orsinio desires Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter), who refuses his attentions. He also flirts with Maria (Imelda Staunton), Olivia's maid. Orsinio sends Cesario as an emissary to Olivia. The foppish Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Richard E. Grant) also seeks Olivia's love. He is a friend of her besotted uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Mel Smith). With the clownish philosopher Feste (Ben Kingsley), all these members of Olivia's household plot to embarrass the dour Malvolio (Nigel Hawthorne), a butler who has no tolerance for frivolity. They fool Malvolio into thinking that Olivia desires him, and when he confesses his love, Olivia orders him imprisoned as a madman. Sebastian then turns up and is mistaken for Cesario. A series of mishaps follows.~ Michael Betzold, All Movie Guide

Starring:
Imogen Stubbs, Toby Stephens
Rental Formats:
DVD

Product Details

Discs
  • Feature universal
Runtime 2 hours 8 minutes
Starring Imogen Stubbs, Toby Stephens, Estelle Harris, Helena Bonham-Carter, Imelda Staunton, Ben Kingsley, Mel Smith, Richard E. Grant, Nigel Hawthorne, Steven Mackintosh
Director Trevor Nunn
Genres Drama
Studio ENTERTAINMENT IN VIDEO
Rental release Limited availability
Main languages English

Other Formats

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
This item has not been released yet and is not eligible to be reviewed.

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
If this "Twelfth Night" is not the definitive "Twelfth Night," it comes close. Under the guidance of director Trevor Nunn, the superb cast plays Shakespeare not only for laughs but also for the dark pathos that underlies the comedy, as is evident in Feste's song, "Come away, come away death, and in sad cypress let me be laid." Ben Kingsley portrays Shakespeare's enigmatic clown, whose rendition of the charming, but usually conventional, "O mistress mine, where are you roaming?," is tinged with a tragic undertone. It not only complements the love-sick Duke Orsino's lament, "If music be the food of love, play on," but, as its last strains linger in the air, it suffuses its listeners with an inexpressible sadness. It is as if, with the final notes, the hitherto roistering Maria, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew, have become painfully aware of the ephemeral nature of life.
Imogen Stubbs is a delightful (and plausibly male) Viola, disguised as Cesario, who must act as a go-between for Orsino (an incredibly handsome Toby Stephens) and Olivia (Helena Bonham-Carter, who looks as if she has stepped out of a pre-Raphaelite painting). The scenes between Viola and Orsino, as she is falling in love with him and he is most definitely attracted to his young "man" and emissary, are fraught with an almost palpable sexual tension, which Nunn's direction nevertheless conveys with subtle artistry (A similar dynamic may well have been present in the original production when the audience knew that a boy was playing the part of a girl playing the part of a boy.). Viola and her twin brother Sebastian look reasonably enough alike so that the audience can easily suspend its disbelief and, along with the characters, enjoy the confusion about "Which one is Sebastian?."
The production is reinforced by an ensemble cast.
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There have been many great Shakespeare drama adaptations, but Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night is outstanding even among the greatest. It is wonderful how sensitively and excitingly he handles the issue of identity (girl disguising herself as a boy) and identification (male-female twins)problems.
The major character is Viola, who after losing her twin brother (played by Stephen Mackintosh very convincingly), is forced to disguise herself as a boy to survive in a strange and hostile land (namely Illyria which is at war with her home county, Messaline). The introductory scenes (not included in the drama) showing how brother and sister, sharing a strong bond of affection, lose each other, how dangerous it is for a citizen of Messaline to set foot in Illiyra and how Viola is transformed into a boy give the story a very good frame. The scenes where Viola is being transformed are great, showing how sensitive this girl is, how difficult it is for her to pretend, yet she musters all her courage to hide her pain over the supposed death of her brother. But struggles are not over as she also has to hide her passionate love from Orsino, the Duke of Illyira whom she serves.
Her position is twofold difficult: she soon becomes Orsino's confident, they get really close to each other so she finds more and more difficult to hide her feelings from him; but to ease Orsino's sufferings, she undertakes to act as a "courier" for pursuing his hopeless love, the Countess Olivia.
Then comes another Shakespearean turn of the screw: Olivia, who won't hear of Orsino's passion, falls for Cesario/Viola. In the meantime, Sebastian, thinking her beloved sister, Viola is dead, sets for Illyria as well ...
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the comedy is funny: the romantic scenes are moving: the shipwreck is scary...

trevor nunn's movie is a great translation into film. film's capacity for clear story telling makes this more realistic and believable than shakespeare's gender-confused comedies can sometimes seem.

and the realism only seems to highlight shakespeare's magic: the dialogue is laugh out loud funny: the scenes between imogen stubbs androgynous viola and helena bonham carter's gorgeous olivia take your breath away; the dialogue between toby belch and malvolio bring a darker, crueller comedy. ben kingsley's feste has the magical, anarchic quality of the wise fool, and the gender mix-ups are just a wee bit transgressive.

an outstanding, intelligent, humane, and above all funny production of this great comedy.
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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 nave 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.
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