The Taming of the Shrew (1983)

Video   |  Comedy, Romance

The swaggering Petruchio agrees to marry the spitting hellcat, Katherine.


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23 August 2013 | djd5821
| Finally! Kate and Petruchio Fall Madly in Love
I recently watched the four "Taming of the Shrew" versions on Netflix. The Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford version was a short experiment into talkie by two well-known silent film actors; Pickford was horrendous. Franco Zeffirelli's version was entertaining, but Richard Burton stole the show in what is supposed to be an ensemble play; Elizabeth Taylor played the violent Shrew better than anyone but couldn't pull off the submissive part. The cerebral and dramatic version with John Cleese was the most provocative, but, honestly, it put me to sleep.

The play is Shakespeare at his most misogynistic and is a challenge to make accessible to a modern audience. The director must use every device to lighten the tone and smooth the brutal roughness of Petruchio's lessons. And this was the only version that delivers.

One of the strengths of this version lies with the fact that Franklin Seales (Petruchio) and Karen Austin (Katherina) play it almost straight: Petruchio is honestly trying to woo Kate and she in turn falls in love with Petruchio. And that is the key to making the play work for a modern audience. The rest of the cast relies on slapstick and visual gags allowing the audience to relax and not take too seriously when the two protagonists go at each other. The cast is strong, and kudos to David Chemel for giving the best performance of all the Lucentios (better than Michael York). Bruce Davison as Tranio stole every scene he was in.

After viewing four versions, I finally realized where directors are going wrong with this play. Kate must fall unconditionally in love with Petruchio somewhere between the end of the tailor scene and the beginning of the sun/moon scene. Anything later makes Kate's submission more jarring as in the Zeffirelli version where she appears to have been mentally abused and her final speech forced. The sun/moon scene thus becomes far more entertaining and light-hearted as the couple realizes that they are madly in love. And Kate's final speech and Petruchio's reaction comes across as the couple's wedding vows that the two weren't ready to say a week earlier. This version gets it almost right and should be considered the template for any director trying to update this most difficult play.

Now to tone down my praise: the movie is a staged version filmed on a static set. It looks like a play shot with three cameras simultaneously, like a sitcom. It is not a Hollywood version by any stretch. Taylor was the best Shrew, but Austin played a better Tamed Shrew. If we could just put them together with this script and Zeffirelli directing we may yet end up with a Taming of the Shrew everyone could love.

This is not a movie, but rather a filmed play, hence my rating. Teachers should use this version for instruction into how Shakespeare may have staged his play.


Release Date:

6 February 1983



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