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The second televised production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with Helen Mirren in the cast, although this time in a different role (Titania). In the 1968 production, which was released to movie theatres in Europe, but premiered in the U.S. on CBS-TV, Ms. Mirren played Hermia. See more »
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1981/I) (TV), directed by Elijah Moshinsky, is a BBC video production. Between 1978 and 1985, the BBC produced all 37 of Shakespeare's plays for British television. They are now available on DVD.
Although Midsummer Night's Dream is sometimes considered just a frivolous minor comic piece, it's actually a sophisticated and thought-provoking play. When it was written, Shakespeare was already a successful playwright, at was almost at the peak of his powers. He had command of his medium to such an extent that he could add two additional plots to the usual high comedy/low comedy convention of his day.
We have two sets of star-crossed lovers-- Hermia, who is loved by Lysander and Demetrius, although she only loves Lysander, and Helena, who loves Demetrius, although he loves Hermia. Hermia's father demands that she marry Demetrius. (Her other choices are to be executed or to enter a convent.) That's just one plot.
Meanwhile, in a wooded area outside the city, Oberon, the King of the Fairies, and Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, are feuding over a young servant boy. The boy is with Titania, but desired by Oberon for his entourage. When these two fight, nature goes into disarray, and people suffer.
Theseus--the mythic hero--is ruler of Athens, where the play is set. He has defeated the Amazons and captured their queen, Hippolyta. He plans to marry Hippolyta in four days, so we know that all other matters must be settled by then.
Finally, a group of working-class men ("rude mechanicals") is preparing a play to celebrate the nuptials. The play is Pyramus and Thisbe, which is about two truly star-crossed lovers who die because of their love. (Perhaps not the best choice for a wedding celebration, but that's the play they've chosen.)
Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy, so we know that the play won't end with dead actors being carried offstage. However, sorting out and bringing all these plots to fruition required the genius of William Shakespeare.
The BBC did an excellent job with this play. Helen Mirren is superb as Titania, the Queen of the Fairies. (It's interesting that 20 years earlier she had played Hermia.) Titania is surrounded by her entourage of fairies, played primarily by children, and you really get the sense that something magical is happening. The fairies don't float in the air like Tinkerbell. They stumble and tumble along in front of, alongside, and behind Titania.
I checked the bios of the other principle actors, and they are all solid professionals. However, as far as I could tell, none of them ever attained the stature of Helen Mirren. Nonetheless, they play their parts well and they work well together in ensemble.
As I wrote in my review of the BBC's Hamlet, this movie presents us with good, solid Shakespeare. It's a very satisfying production, and definitely worth seeing. The BBC Shakespeare series was particularly popular for use in schools, colleges, and public libraries. Because they were made for TV, they work very well on the small screen.
The DVD's are expensive to purchase individually, although the boxed sets are more reasonably priced. My suggestion is to check the DVD out of your local or college library, and treat yourself to over two hours of excellent Shakespeare.
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