Movie Review of Twelfth Night

Director Kenneth Branagh took a more “modern” and interesting twist on this classic Shakespearean comedy. This adaptation took place on a never changing set, like a play, but it was not performed for a live audience. Instead, it was a play filmed for television by the Renaissance Theatre Production Company in 1988.

It started with an offset shot of Viola, played by Frances Barber talking to the Sea Captain then it cut to the set where the rest of the movie was filmed. The setting was the courtyard area outside of Olivia’s house for the whole duration of the play, which I thought was very boring and limiting because there are a lot of moments in this play that could have been enhanced with a more complex set.

The setting was not only one place but it was also outside and the director had it cold and snowy because it is the “twelfth night” so it is in January. I did not enjoy the fact that it took place outside the whole time because it gave a very depressing feel to this play that is supposed to be a comedy. It is amazing how much a setting can affect the way a person interprets a story.

This version was a very “dark” adaptation of this play. It was not that is morbid or scary, it was just not funny, in fact it was more sad than comical. I do think it had a lot to do with the setting, but also it had to do with some of the actor’s approaches to the text.

The casting of this play was either spot on, or it came close to how the characters were depicted in the play. Although, some of the actors made me feel like they were dragging their feet through this performance. Not that they were bad actors, but it felt a lot more dramatic and sad rather then fun. I did not feel that the actors were finding the comedy in these unrealistic circumstances, but that also could just be the director’s approach.

Frances Barber, I think played a very good Viola, and even cut her hair to play Cesario, but she played this character in a very gloomy way. I understand that it is sad that she could not be with the man she loved because the man she loved did not know who she was, but when she presented herself to Olivia for the Duke it was very cold and unwelcoming. Cersario was supposed to be someone that Olivia was completely swept away by and I just did not see it.

The three actors that I think “carried” this production were Caroline Langrishe (Olivia), Sir Toby Belch (James Gartside), and Anton Lesser (Feste). Each actor played the character very well and completely matched the given circumstances that the play had presented them. Caroline Langrishe was beautiful, graceful, witty, and delivered her lines with great comedic timing. James Gartside made comedy look easy and was a much needed comic relief at times. Anton Lesser played Feste very well. The costume designer for this production had the cast in 20th Century English clothes and they had Feste in beggar’s clothes, which I found appealing. (Fun fact for Game of Thrones fans: Anton Lesser played Qyburn). Lesser was cunning, charming, witty, and entertaining. In this production the director had Feste sing at times and it was a nice change to the sad and dreary music that accompanied this production.

Overall, I thought this was a very harsh version of this comedy. The setting was cold and some of the actors made it more sad than funny. A lot of the comedic parts came from how dramatic some of the actions were. It was like the actors were hugely relying on how the situations made them feel instead of using the words. I would recommend this production for an English class because it was very similar to the script and easy to understand because it was a more modern adaptation, but would not recommend for the Shakespeare fans that are watching for pleasure.

– Maddie Poeta

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