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1 item from 1996

Film review: 'Twelfth Night'

25 October 1996 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Trevor Nunn's film version of one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies lacks the star power of the Mel Gibson "Hamlet" and the audacity of Ian McKellen's "Richard III" and should prove tough going for all but the most sophisticated art-house audiences. It does, however, succeed in putting the Bard ahead of Jane Austen in the current literary-adaptation horse race.

This play of mistaken identities and cross-dressing hasn't been filmed before and probably for good reason; its confusing plot lines and multiple characters make for a difficult experience, and this often-somber adaptation isn't particularly user-friendly. The story revolves around a pair of identical twins, Viola (Imogen Stubbs) and Sebastian (Steven Mackintosh), who are separated as a result of a shipwreck. Viola, believing her brother dead, disguises herself as a man and enters the service of the young Duke Orsino (Toby Stephens).

The duke sends his new charge to woo the beautiful widow Olivia Helena Bonham Carter) on his behalf, but Olivia is more interested in the messenger than the message. Viola, on the other hand, finds herself in love with Orsino. When Sebastian shows up, things become even more complicated.

There are many colorful supporting characters, including Olivia's foolish steward, Malvolio (Nigel Hawthorne), who becomes the victim of a cruel practical joke engineered by Olivia's uncle Sir Toby Belch (Mel Smith) and his friend Andrew Aguecheek (Richard E. Grant). Ben Kingsley appears sporadically as Feste, the fool, who provides acerbic comments on the absurd goings-on.

Nunn, the esteemed theater director who makes a film only every decade or so, is faithful to the material and doesn't invest it with any gimmickry. He has also assembled a first-rate group of performers. But the film never quite comes to life.

The theatricality of the piece doesn't translate particularly well, with the realism of film not kind to such artifices as Viola's pretending to be a man. The acting, too, is surprisingly pallid, with the exception of Hawthorne, who provides laughs and poignance. Kingsley also has some wonderful moments, although he is required to wander around the countryside, crooning like a 19th-century Bing Crosby, a little too often.

The neo-Victorian look of the settings and costumes is handsome but drab, and so is the cinematography.


Fine Line Features

Director-screenplay Trevor Nunn

Producers Stephen Evans, David Parfitt

Executive producer Greg Smith

Director of photography Clive Tickner

Editor Peter Boyle

Music Shaun Davey



Olivia Helena Bonham Carter

Sir Andrew Aguecheek Richard E. Grant

Malvolio Nigel Hawthorne

Feste Ben Kingsley

Sir Toby Belch Mel Smith

Maria Imelda Staunton

Orsino Toby Stephens

Viola Imogen Stubbs

Running time -- 125 min.

MPAA rating: PG


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