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Customer Review

64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some excellent performances marred by a poor heroine, October 14, 2005
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This review is from: Twelfth Night (Thames Shakespeare Collection) (DVD)
This was originally a stage production, and it seems to have been "adapted" for TV by simply filming the actors on the single unchanging stage set and perhaps adding some fake snow. If you take it as such, it's not bad, but if you're expecting something along the lines of Branagh's "Henry V" or "Much Ado about Nothing", you may be disappointed. The Trevor Nunn version is much more cinematic and uses a gorgeous country manor house in Cornwall as the set.

My main problem with this production was the casting of two of the leads. Christopher Ravenscroft seems rather sheepish as Orsino, but much worse was Frances Barber (Viola/Cesario), whose facial expressions, as Dorothy Parker said of Katharine Hepburn, "ran the gamut of emotions from A to B." Moreover, Barber is so obviously female that it was impossible to muster the suspension of disbelief necessary to appreciate the emotional interplay between Viola and Olivia and Orsino.

On the other hand, Caroline Langrishe is "beauty truly blent" as Olivia, and maintains an appropriately regal bearing except when falling in love with Cesario/Sebastian. She is worth the price of the video by herself, but the low comedy actors are excellent as well, especially Abigail McKern as Maria, and Shaun Prendergast, who makes the tiny role of Fabian into a distinct and memorable character.

The text adheres faithfully to the First Folio, with only a few minor cuts. For some reason they left out the priest, which makes for a slight discontinuity in Act V.

The wintry setting is appealing (except for the Christmas tree and carol, which I found rather jarring). There are many amusing or enlightening bits of stage business, such as Fabian nimbly carrying the passed-out Feste offstage along with several bottles.

Patrick Doyle wrote the music (except for "Come Away, Death", whose melody is by Paul McCartney) and plays the piano offstage, accompanied by a horn, cello, and percussion. According to Branagh, this was Doyle's debut, and it shows -- the music for the songs doesn't seem to suit the text at all, and the main theme, though it seems intended to be dramatic, just sounds confused. Doyle did much better later with "Much Ado about Nothing." Anton Lesser as the Fool has a nice voice, but his intonation leaves something to be desired.

The DVD includes an interview with Kenneth Branagh, who gives a bit of information about the original stage production, but chiefly rambles on about the Jacobean subtext of the play. I would have appreciated some commentary by the actors, but I suppose after fifteen years they probably don't remember a great deal about it.

All in all, well worth watching, but if you haven't seen Twelfth Night before, you might want to start with the Trevor Nunn version instead.
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