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Yes, it's clear that director Peter Hall was influenced by Richard Lester in
his filming of Shakespeare's classic comedy/fantasy: the hand-held camera,
jump cutting, etc. And while one could quibble with some of his derivative
directorial choices, there's no arguing that this is the best-acted "Dream"
on film available.
There's hardly a weak link in the cast, with the exception of David Warner and Michael Jayston as the male half of the quartet of lovers. Warner is a skilled classical actor, but he never had an ounce of charm. Jayston is competent, but dull and colorless.
But the rest of the cast is marvelous, with special kudos to Helen Mirren, Diana Rigg, Ian Richardson, and Judi Dench as a very sexy Titania. Ian Holm's snake-tongue bit as Puck gets old, but his somewhat malevolent rendition of Puck is well done.
I'm surprised that no one has made more out of Paul Rodgers superb Bottom, by far the best I've ever seen on stage or screen. Unlike so many actors who broadly overplay the role to wring laughs, Rodgers plays Bottom completely straight and with total conviction - never descending to self-conscious comedic playing. And he's all the more hilarious for it. This Pyramus and Thisbee playlet at the end is the funniest ever.
There were little jumps and quirks in this production by the Royal Shakespeare Company - but in reality they merely added to the otherworldly and ethereal overall effect. I liked the art design very much and found it charming. The cast was superb - and for those who only know Judi Dench as dowdy or as Queen Elizabeth, in this film she plays the queen of the fairies, Titania, in a costume consisting only of three small leaves! She might have been the sexiest Titania ever.
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
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.
The Bard and the Royal Shakespeare Company fight the Swinging '60s to a respectable draw in this production, which does feature nearly all of the text of the play, splendidly _ if often frenetically _ delivered. Director Peter Hall couldn't quite come up with a film equivalent of his famous stage production, which featured modern dress, a stark white set, and imaginative use of trapezes. Instead he picked an approach heavily influenced by the French New Wave and its English imitators, notably Richard Lester. There's lots of jangly, abrupt editing _ which sometimes, as intended, captures the supernatural flitting of the fairies, and sometimes is just annoying. There's lots of talking to the camera, and a certain catch-as-catch-can attitude: shots don't match up, and, although the main action is supposed to take place at night, there's sometimes no effort to disguise the sunlight streaming through the trees. (Of course, perhaps some of this was the result not of artistic decisions, but merely of haste and a tiny budget.) It's somehow a very '60s Athens _ Hermia and Helena wear cute miniskirts, the four lovers get so twig-torn and mud-spattered that they look like refugees from Woodstock, and the fairies look like green-skinned members of a back-to-nature commune. For all the eccentricities, this festive but haunting play is done straight and done well, and the cast ranges from solid to splendid. The two standouts are Diana Rigg (Helena) and Judi Dench (Titania) _ and this is your one and only chance to see the former sucking her thumb and the latter wearing an outfit (consisting mainly of body paint and flecks of vegetation) that Blaze Starr might have found drafty.
I was channel surfing one day and came upon this film. Unbelievable acting and costumes. I was glad I found it, most entertaining. This is one movie which should go down in history as one of the "must sees". Wish I could personally shake Clive Swift's hand for a wonderful performance in this classic, along with all the other performers! The "costumes" used to portray the individuals in each of their roles was wonderfully done. Also, the "life" put into each of Shakespeare's characters is outstanding. If one does not understand the play by reading it, one will surely understand it after watching this film! This is also a perfect film to see Clive Swift do some other acting other than his extraordinary performance upon "Keeping up Appearances".
Yes, there are flaws in editing, lighting and the like. These are probably the results of a relatively low production, and, perhaps of the fact that this was originally conceived as a TV film, and therefore as relatively ephemeral. The superb service given by director and cast to Shakespeare's language and characters far more than make up for any shortcomings. A better production of "Dream", for screen or stage, can hardly be imagined!
This is the Royal Shakespeare Company at its best. I mean, hey. Not only do we get a treat to Diana Rigg's Helena in her pre-Emma Peel days but look at lovely Helen Mirren's delightful Hermia. The youths, David Warner and Michael Jayston are great, twirled and swizzled by Ian Holm's delightful Puck messing up the good intentions of the bug-eyed Ian Richardson's Oberon. But, a semi-nude Judi Dench-- all in green-- is likewise delightful in her cavorting with Paul Rogers's Bottom. The rest of the players within a play, Swift, Shaw, Eccles, Normington and the great Bill Travers (who can ever forget him in 'Big Time Operators,' or 'Wee Geordie?')as Snout. There is wonder in this romp through the woods, where the lovers keep getting dirtier and dirtier, as the sprites, fairies and gnomes are green. This is a wonderful version that will only be approached 31 years later. As for the later (1996) RSC version..., well, you'll have to go there and see my comments. But, in my view, it can't approach the fun, mirth and joy of this wonderful production.
This movie looks like it was hastily committed to film by high school
students. The lighting changes constantly so one is never sure whether
the scene is intended to be at night or during the day. The fairies
appear to be various shades of green at different times. The lovers get
muddier and muddier as the story progresses, and the stains migrate
around their clothes and faces. The sound is exactly the same wherever
the action is. There is a frequent use of jerky stop action to move the
scene from place to place and to show fairies moving at the speed of
light. The dreadful music is earnestly trying to be avante-garde and
succeeding in being cacophonous and out-of-place. The costumes were
trendy then but look rather silly now.
The virtually uncut script, an advantage for students, has the disadvantage of occasionally slowing the action to a near stop.
It's a pity because these are great performances by an amazingly talented cast. Helen Mirren's Hermia, less strident than most, Ian Holm's doglike Puck and Judi Dench's near naked Titania are standouts certainly. Best of all for me was Derek Godfrey as Theseus. He brings a lot of dignity and urbanity to a part often played as a pompous bore or a chump. Theseus is given a lot of lines, sadly cut in many productions, which comment on literature and drama. "The best of this kind are but shadows, and the worst no worse, if imagination amend it." You need a fair bit of imagination to amend the shortfalls of this film, but the effort is well worth it.
I only saw this during the single showing CBS gave it way back when. I
had no idea what the play was about but as a Diana Rigg fan, I was
curious what she had been up since abruptly leaving The Avengers. I
only saw it on a 19' BW TV. I had no idea that some of the Faerie were
green.... The things you learn at this site!
Decades later, looking at the cast list, I'm really eager for a chance to see this again! This is one of those productions where everyone was unknown then and famous now. I'm also curious about the relationship of CLARE DENCH and EMMA DENCH to the now-world-famous Judi Dench (I'm guessing nieces).
Postscript, April 2007-- Last November I finally got a chance to see this nearly-forgotten flick. The film quality is a bit off, with some noticeable color shifting. But what the heck! It's probably the only version available....
It's a very, very dated production. Hippolyta wears a classic mid-60s Mod outfit and some of the outfits struck me as very Hippie era. This may be the effect they wanted, a sort of psychedelic Shakespeare.
Oh man, what a cast! So many future stars a decade before they would finally hit it big-- Ian Holm, David Warner, Helen Mirren as an ingénue, Judi Dench in the nude?!?!?!
Hopefully the BBC saved the negative or at least a decent copy of this so that someday they release a decent copy of this.
This rendition is somewhat 60ish but its my personal favorite.
If you can set that aside, the acting is first rate and I
some of the best performances are delivered. Peter Hall's use of the
hand-held camera keeps the movie very interesting and constantly
The cast is unmatched in any other Midsummer production with Diana Rigg, Ian Richardson, and Judi Dench. My favorite is Ian Holm's rendition of Puck ... truly memorable. Paul Rodgers is also stellar as Bottom and is certainly the best Pyramus and Thisbee ive seen in any of the renditions.
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