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Twelfth Night

Starring Imogen Stubbs, Helena Bonham Carter, Toby Stephens, Ben Kingsley, Nigel Hawthorne, and Steven Mackintosh
From the play by William Shakespeare
Adapted and Directed by Trevor Nunn

Since Cranky doesn't make comparisons to source material, I should also note that I don't know the intricacies of Shakespeare from a hole in the ground. All that follows is what I pieced together. It is one of the great failings of this Twelfth Night that I could follow very little of it.

Unlike last year's Othello and Richard III, both of which were constructed with characters addressing and explaining the action to the audience, Twelfth Night is a comedy. The adaptation by Trevor Nunn places the setting somewhere around 1890, and sets everything up before the credits roll. From that point on, you're on your own.

We are introduced to Viola (Imogen Stubbs) and Sebastian (Steven Mackintosh), identical twins who have no problem cross-dressing to entertain a crowd. Part of their singing act, as seen below decks on an ocean cruise, is the revelation that all the audience sees is not necessarily correct. That's a running theme of the play. As Twelfth Night begins, the ship they are sailing on runs aground and each of the siblings believes the other to be drowned.

The country the twins are from and Illyria (where Viola washes up) are at war. Viola goes to ground, meaning she cuts her hair (which make her look like a girlish young man) and becomes "Cesario." Viola/Cesario infiltrates the household of Duke Orsino (Toby Stephens), gains enough of his confidence to become his right hand "man," and thus saves her neck. Orsino, injured in the war (I suppose), charges Cesario to go to the lady Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter) and woo her in his stead. Olivia has sworn off men since the deaths of her father and brother, and has no interest in the Count's offering. Ah, but the fine young "man" bearing the offer is another story. Olivia is smitten.

But Viola has fallen for Orsino and he for, um, "him." Viola cannot reveal herself because it would mean imprisonment or worse, and Orsino now thinks he is falling for another man. Not kosher back in 1600, when the play was written, but a good setup for what is to come, nonetheless.

For comic relief there's Olivia's drunken uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Mel Smith), and his pal Andrew (Richard Grant). Toby has a most wonderful time playing tricks on the pompous manservant of the household, Malvolio (Nigel Hawthorne), and making passes at Olivia's maidservant. Ben Kingsley joins the supporting cast as a Fool, I think, aiding and abetting the stories as they play out.

There's also a bit about Sebastian (Viola/Cesario's brother) and his friend Antonio, but I'm not about to try to explain that 'cuz I'm not sure I saw what I was meant to see. "Love" between men back in 1600 didn't necessarily mean what it may today. But, given the staging, it may have.

You cannot fault the A-list cast, all of whom individually have brilliant moments on screen. Bonham Carter gets more out of a befuddled expression than almost any actor that I can think of. It is almost as funny as an earlier gag by Hawthorne, when he sets his watch using a sundial for reference. See it to believe it.

Unlike Othello and Richard III (both of which I reviewed last year), Twelfth Night has no character turning to the camera to explain what the devil is going on. Cranky had no problem following the broad brush strokes of the main stories. It's the fine line work that lost him.

Then again, even if you can only see the forest for the trees, the final scene, where all pretenders are unmasked, is terrifically funny. More than in the productions of Othello and Richard III poor sound recording makes the archaic language more difficult to follow. Shakespeare was much too good a writer to let the intricacies slip through the cracks. Cranky was disappointed.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Twelfth Night, he would have paid...


Rent it, and use the remote control generously to replay what you don't get the first time.

Click to buy films by Trevor Nunn
Click to buy films starring Helena Bonham Carter
Click to buy films starring Nigel Hawthorne

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