31 March 2013

Twelfth Night (1988 Branagh)

Twelfth Night (1988)
  • Director of stage production: Kenneth Branagh. Director of film: Paul Kafno.
  • Based on Book: Shakespeare
  • Cast: Frances Barber, Christopher Hollis, Tim Barker, Richard Briers, Caroline Langrishe, Anton Lesser, Abigail McKern, Christopher Ravenscroft, James Saxon, James Simmons, Sean Prendergast
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Frances Barber – Prick Up Your Ears, Friday Night Dinner, Hustle
    • Tim Barker – Jeeves and Wooster
    • Richard Briers: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Hamlet, In the Bleak Midwinter, Frankenstein, Much Ado About Nothing, Peter’s Friends, Henry V
    • Anton Lesser – Pirates of the Caribbean, The Girl in the Café, King Lear, Troilus and Cressida
    • Chritstopher Ravenscroft - Henry V
    • James Simmons – Les Miserables (I haven’t seen it yet but have tickets for this afternoon!), All’s Well That Ends Well, Henry V
    • Sean Prendergast – Henry V, Frankenstein, In the Bleak Midwinter
  • Why bought: Shakespeare and Branagh
  • Seen: Twice: January 5, 2010 and December 22, 2012

This is Branagh’s first film effort, I believe, and he was more in charge of the play than the filming, but even in that he already shows signs of his genius.
The setting is simple – it’s all done in a collection of Roman type ruins and sometimes it’s snowing. Christmas pops up in the form of a decorated tree and the carousers singing parts of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Unnecessary, of course, since Twelfth Night has nothing to do with Twelfth Night, but amusing.
So this is not the cinematic extravaganza that Branagh became so famous for later on.  It is clearly a filmed stage play and that’s fine with me.
The real strength of the film is the casting of Feste (Lesser) and Aguecheek (James Simmons) and the profound expression of sadness both reveal amidst all their goofing around.  Anton Lesser, in his enormous ragged overcoat, dreds and gold earrings, sings beautifully though raspily, pierces through the other characters’ silliness with Shakespeare’s excellent foolish wisdom, and throughout looks so very sad and despairing.  James Simmons too fumbles around like the idiot he is but is so endearing in his melancholy realization that he is, indeed, an idiot.
Richard Briers is also good as the vain and nasty Malvolio and he is truly broken at the end, deepening the pain in this comedy.  Caroline Langrishe’s Olivia is competent and beautiful but nobody can match Helena Bonham-Carter in this role.  Sir Toby (James Saxon) is the least obnoxious version I’ve seen and therefore the best, I liked Fabian (Sean Prendergast) and Ravencroft’s Orsino is fine too – he’s handsome and dumb. Unfortunately I found Abigail McKern’s Maria shrill and unlikeable which is maybe the way Shakespeare meant her to be but not pleasant to watch.
However the movie’s weakness is in the characterization of Viola. Frances Barber just can’t manage it. She has an odd smile that dominates all of her facial expressions, she’s teary and wimpy instead of wry and sharp and she ruins the hilarity of the sword fight by overplaying her girly hysterics.
Wow. It feels really weird to write such nasty stuff about a Branagh production. But, hey, no one is a total genius the first time. That came in his second directing effort, Henry V, the following year.
But here he only gets 8* of 10.


  1. very good i really like it....

  2. Thank you for the comment, Rizwan! Are you interested in Shakespeare?
    I look forward to more comments.