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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: August ::
Thirteenth Night
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1631  Monday, 18 August 2003

From:           Charles Weinstein <
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 >
Date:           Sunday, 17 Aug 2003 09:07:52 -0400
Subject:        Thirteenth Night

Twelfth Night, directed by Tim Supple.  With Parminder Nagra (Viola)
Ronny Jhuti (Sebastian) Chiwetel Ejiofor (Orsino) Claire Price (Olivia)
Michael Maloney (Malvolio) David Troughton (Toby Belch) Richard Bremmer
(Andrew Aguecheek) and Zubin Varla (Feste)

Televised Shakespeare has become rare; cinematic Shakespeare is getting
rarer.  Not rare enough, however: witness this film version of Twelfth
Night, recently telecast on Britain's Channel 4. The performances are
dull; the direction shows alarming symptoms of advanced Luhrmanism; and
many of the creative choices, both large (a modern setting) and small
(Orsino in his bath chatting with an embarrassed/excited Viola) have
been seen before.  Malvolio is strangely depicted as a mild, harmless
fellow who fails to live up to his name. With equal perversity, Toby and
Andrew are mordantly vicious thugs neither funny in themselves nor the
cause that comedy is in others. Throw in a stolid, charmless Viola and a
series of shabby exteriors and stagy interiors, and the production sinks
faster than a Messaline schooner.  This joyless and underbudgeted
eyesore deserves the oblivion which will engulf it, but it does offer
several points for further consideration.

1.  The casting is not only multicultural but schematic. Orsino and his
court are African; Olivia and her household are British-Celtic; Viola,
Sebastian and Feste are Indian. The effect is that of a Subcontinental
contingent shuttling back and forth between Albion and Zimbabwe.  One
can have an interesting time trying to figure out why this is a valid
correlative for Shakespeare's play.

By the way, the film retains Viola's wonderful line about concealment
feeding upon her sister's--that is, upon her own--"damask cheek." As
played by Parminder Nagra in close up, the moment is absurd.

2.  The text has been cut by at least half.  Gone are the scenes between
Malvolio and Viola, Maria and Feste, Feste and Orsino; and all that
remains has a sketchy, hurried feel.  This relatively brief and very
beautiful play is not brief enough for director Tim Supple: he has
hacked it to pieces, making it considerably less beautiful.

But why be surprised?  Shakespearean films usually cut a great deal, far
more than theatrical productions do.  Cinema is a word-hostile medium,
reducing everything to imagery or spectacle, using only enough shreds of
dialogue to make the pictures intelligible. Kozintsev's celebrated
Hamlet ran 2 hours and 20 minutes, and great chunks of it were
wordless.  It clearly retained less than half of the original:  when the
DVD is released we will discover that the proportions are even worse
than those for Tim Supple's Twelfth Night.

Tell me: How much of Shakespeare's text may a film excise before it
ceases to be a valid production of the play?  It's a question that
Professors of English Literature should be particularly interested in
asking.

--Charles Weinstein

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