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This is not only the best version of the play available on film, it is easily one of the five best Shakespearian films of all (at least in English).
The fact that it was made on less than a shoestring budget is totally irrelevant. Whether or not there are any special effects, the photography by the renowned Peter Suschitzky ("Dead Ringers", "Empire Strikes Back", "Spider") is excellent. It's not only pictorial, but contributes greatly to the spontaneous, irreverent, slapstick-esquire approach to the whole production, which Peter Hall and his marvelous actors worked so hard to achieve. The locations are also ideal, given the modernized, anglicized look of the production.
Director Hall's interpretation of the play comes as close to 'perfection' as an enthusiast of the Bard could possibly ask for. He refuses to reduce the play to an erotic fantasy, as so many other have done (i.e. the 1999 film), and he rejects the even more common temptation to turn it into a loud, garish costume-ball. In other word, Hall presents the play as Shekespeare wrote it.It relies for its appeal on marvelous words and gestures, not on costumes and special effects.
As for the cast, one only need to look at the big names on the list to see that this production was literally one-of-a-kind. Actually the least famous major player in this company is the one most worthy of note: Paul Rogers, a wonderful character actor and a frequent collaborator of Alec Guinness, is quite possibly the best Bottom that most of us (in this day and age) are ever likely to see. Both Cagney and Kevin Kline were terrific in the major films, but Paul Rogers IS Bottom.
It says something about both film audiences and readers that the 1935 Warner Bros. film with James Cagney is rated more highly on the IMDb than this production. In that pretty but vapid collection of songs and dances, you could hardly hear any of Shakespeare's words, and if you could you would have to cringe, since almost none of the actors could adequately speak the lines. Cagney was good, but the rest was silence. GO WITH THIS VERSION INSTEAD! Fortunately, it was recently made available on DVD.
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