4 June 2003 | HenryHextonEsq
The height of autumnal wistfulness.
Reading Trevor Nunn's thoughts on his film, it is easy to conclude that they were lucky to obtain such sublime weather for the large duration of the filming, in November. The Cornwall locations are absolutely enchanting; showing an England so far from the urban norm these days. The beautiful natural light, with later dark contrasts, perfectly complements the jovial, winning mood of this Shakespeare comedy brought to screen: and, what is more, this is truly beyond any sense of 'heritage cinema', as Shakespeare's genius is retained.
Yes, it is all a very 'accessible' package, but much is unusual and distinctive to this film adaptation. Ben Kinglsey is perhaps the most glaring instance of a radical re-invisioning; his acting - stripped bare of artifice - is utterly compelling and keeps you watching his every mannerism. This Feste is an eccentric, multi-talented clown and performer, but he also bears words of cutting, melancholy truth. Indeed, both are wonderfully combined with the gorgeously sad scene of Staunton, Grant and Smith listening to his sad song: they listen and the words cut into their veneers. Loneliness is at their very core. What a brilliantly rounded comedy this is; balanced by melancholy - the inch-perfect awry note struck by Hawthorne's Malvolio appearing at the end - and good will - the comradely bonhomie that Grant and Smith are indeed shown to share.
Hawthorne and perhaps more surprisingly Mel Smith and Richard E. Grant really do a fine job and imbuing some real character in their parts; treading a line between broad comedic playing and human sadness. Along with Kingsley's career-best (? not seen too many of his films) performance, they lend this film its heart, and play very well against the wonderful settings. Mackintosh and Stubbs are I guess a little less compelling, but these roles are really difficult to carry off... nothing about them really lingers too long in the memory, like Kingsley's expressions, bizarre little pieces of dance and his pared-down delivery. Helena Bonham Carter is perhaps overly assured as the vain countess dame, Olivia: oh so archly bemused when faced by the cross-gartered, prancing Hawthorne, but generally Ms. Bonham Carter is very much in her usual, predictably petulant, period-costume mode. Which is probably being unfair; she does convince, at the end of the day.
Overall then, a wonderfully colourful delight, bearing the flavour of bright, melancholy late summer-into-autumn. A strange chill is cast by the compelling Kinglsey; a sadness that cannot be dispelled. This film has light amusement in addition to this real edge, and is ultimately a very affecting rendering of a bona fide Shakesperean classic.