Shakespeare's comedy of gender confusion, in which a girl disguises herself as a man to be near the count she adores, only to be pursued by the woman he loves.Shakespeare's comedy of gender confusion, in which a girl disguises herself as a man to be near the count she adores, only to be pursued by the woman he loves.Shakespeare's comedy of gender confusion, in which a girl disguises herself as a man to be near the count she adores, only to be pursued by the woman he loves.
Another difficulty is the role of Feste. Ben Kingsley fills this role, and because Ben Kingsley is a major star, he magnifies this character (in my opinion) out of all proportion. He becomes a sort of Zen master, pompous and oppressive. His jokes aren't funny (maybe we can't find Shakespeare's jokes funny today, but Kingsley's heavy delivery precludes humor), and his last confrontation with Malvolio comes off as a sort of thundering divine retribution. The entire play, the entire cast, stops dead and Feste takes over as if the whole point of the play has been his apotheosis at the expense of the degraded Malvolio. This surely cannot be what Shakespeare had in mind. Throughout the play he has a disconcerting habit of staring at other characters or the camera with what almost be described as a leer.
Maybe Shakespeare would have sighed and commiserated with the producer of this film, because the clowns in his day were also big stars who demanded a lot of meat in their roles. The trouble is that there just isn't much meat in Feste's role according to the text, so we're stuck with leers and thundering retribution and other inventions. Shakespeare had to accommodate his clowns with ever-more important roles, climaxing with characters like Touchstone and Lear's fool. Kingsley is just inventing his own character. At times his work is interesting, but his weight in the production is, as I said, oppressive.
Still, his screen time is relatively small, and much of the rest of the play is a joy, even if the point of the story isn't always clear. Bonham-Carter was never more alluring, Hawthorne is priceless as Malvolio (he was born for the role), and Smith and Grant are the perfect combination of Belch and Aguecheek. I suppose you might object that all four of them put their eyebrows to such prodigious use that their acting might be characterized as hamming. But I don't see how any of these characters can be played straight if the play is to work.
One thing is for sure, no one would ever accuse this production of bogging down. The pace is lively, the sets and the cinematography are always striking, the score is invigorating, and I suspect that I could watch this film dubbed in Swahili and it would still be a lot of fun. Visually arresting is perhaps the best description.
- Apr 23, 2007