Twelfth Night (1996) directed by Trevor Nunn


Twelfth Night on DVD from AmazonStarring Imogen Stubbs, Helena Bonham-Carter, Ben Kingsley, Toby Stephens, and Nigel Hawthorne

reviewed (again) 2010 by John Murphy
(for John’s 2004 review, click here)

One of the nice things about writing a blog is that nothing is set in stone. A review in print tends to make an author’s opinion (arrived at via contingency’s endless byways) seem inevitable and complete, like a Papal Bull or a design etched in acid. We all know this isn’t the case, but since writers rarely have the chance to revise opinions after publication, the printed opinion must stand, rather like an awkward-looking sentinel guarding a long-abandoned citadel.

As you may have gathered, the blog vs. print preamble is my philosophical way of admitting that I was wrong about something. In the greenery of my youth, I gave Trevor Nunn’s film adaptation of Twelfth Night the short shrift. I had my reasons, some of which still stand. But there was a crimped lack of generosity in my earlier review that demands some amendment.

Ben Kingsley as Feste in Trevor Nunn's TWELFTH NIGHT

Ben Kingsley as Feste

Context is part of it. It’s easier to see now where Twelfth Night fits into the trajectory of cinematic Shakespeare. The 1990’s were a Boom decade for the Bard, mostly thanks to the surprise critical and commercial success of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing. Nunn’s film — which was released in the same year as Branagh’s Hamlet and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet — has many elective affinities with Branagh’s populist Bard-vision. The late 19th century seems the go-to time-period: not so long ago as to be distant, but not too recent for the language to seem out-of-place. Scenes are invented, lines cut and rearranged, to minimize audience confusion. The Royal Shakespeare Company furnishes many of the cast members, and the composer even does a passable Patrick Doyle imitation.

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Categories: Trevor Nunn and Twelfth Night.

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