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The history of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens is a little murky; critics
speculate it was never performed in the author's lifetime, and the version
that has been passed through the ages is a working draft, one the Bard
tinkered on for years and eventually discarded. It is considered his
Well, that may be, but it's still Shakespeare, which means it is still a classic. It does not have the strong storyline of Othello or the poetic depth of King Lear, but it has got a great lead character who has a very dynamic arc. And this BBC production of Timon of Athens is absolutely brilliant.
Jonathon Pryce gives an astonishing performance as Timon. He is such a little lamb at the beginning, so likeable, so naïve, and his fall is deeply moving and terribly sad. Put this performance up there with Derek Jacobi's Richard II and Laurence Olivier's Henry V. It is that good. This should be required viewing for anyone who wants to be an actor. Watching this, I never once thought, `There's Jonathon Pryce.' I thought, `Oh, poor Timon! Don't trust them! They're flatterers!'
The director and producer make some interesting (and strange) choices. Some of the dialogue is spoken out of earshot, for what seems like a long time. And the action takes place in ancient Greece, but all the characters are dressed in Elizabethan garb. I wonder: is it because they are trying to fashion something as it might have looked in Shakespeare's day? And if so, why would they do that?
That aside, there are a lot of nice directorial touches throughout, and very good work from the supporting players.
The BBC's Timon of Athens is a must for any Shakespeare fan. Watch this video!
"Timon of Athens" is an unusual play. Characters are introduced and
never reappear, there are no important female characters and the whole
play is somehow misshapen. Some scholars think that it may never have
been produced on stage, staying in Shakespeare's desk drawer and being
worked on from time to time but never quite finished.
It's possible, but this BBC production is even more odd. These Shakespeare telecasts had, by contract, to be done in either the period specified or Shakespeare's own time, but the original director hired for this show insisted on doing it in modern dress Asian. "Timon" would work better in modern dress than most Shakespeare, though the Asian dimension eludes me, but the director refused to back down and was fired just before rehearsals started.
Producer Jonathan Miller leapt in and became director. He normally percolated his production ideas for a year or more before taping, but now he had to pull this show together from scratch. It works, and better than some others with more preparation. There are many wicked directorial touches. Sometimes whole encounters are captured in one long unbroken shot, and the concentration of all involved is impressive.
Jonathan Pryce was hired for his ability to erupt, and he does. Timon's rage after the second banquet was not staged and rehearsed, it was just improvised by the actor on the spot and the cameraman followed him as best he could. The performance is vivid all the way through, with terrific emotion.
The only reason I've given this show a rating of no more than 7 is because Timon has about half the lines in the play, and Pryce's diction is just not good enough. Whole pages flew by where I didn't understand a word, and for the first time I came out of one of these videos saying "I must read the play and find out what he said." When Pryce was in scenes with RSC regulars like Norman Rodway, the other actor was completely comprehensible, so the fault is not in the sound recording, but in Pryce's gummy enunciation.
The supporting cast was mostly fine, with particularly good work by John Welsh as Flavius the Steward and Norman Rodway as Apemanthus. In bits, you can see Sebastian Shaw (Darth Vader's death scene) as the Old Athenian, Diana Dors as one of the hookers (you'll know which one) and John Justin (from "The Thief of Baghdad" with Sabu and Conrad Veidt) surfaces as an Athenian Senator. Only John Fortune and John Bird annoy, as Poet and Painter, because their "sketch comedy" performances comment on the characters rather than play them.
On the whole, recommended, with caveats.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Shakespeare's play about a man who gives too much, only to realize that
his "friends" were only using him, is underrated, it seems to me, and
this may be the only rendition of it on film. Luckily, it works.
Jonathan Pryce is convincing as the altruist-turned-misanthrope, and his associates play their parts with just the right degree of worminess. I thought all the lesser players, from Alcibiades and Apemantus to the "brace" of garishly painted whores, excelled in their roles. The final scene, a silent one involving Timon's only true friend, is poignant and haunting.
I'm trying to introduce my 7-year-old son to the works of Shakespeare, and we both sincerely enjoyed the scene in which disillusioned Timon serves his hypocritical guests tureens of stone soup. (Could this be where the famous kids' story originates?)
I recommend this film to anyone interested in the more obscure works of Shakespeare, particularly if they'd be willing to read the play beforehand. There's a lot of great poetry here, as well as an odd and compelling story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This, with 'Cymbeline' the most difficult Shakespeare play,is rendered with remarkable power and lucidity for the Beeb's TV Shakespeare series. The settings for Timon in his affluence and then his ruin work extremely well, and though the Elizabethan costumes are anachronistic they suit Timon and his flatterers to perfection. Jonathan Pryce adds Timon to his exceptional Hamlet, Macbeth and Petruchio (on stage) and matches Scofield in his transition from innocent goodwill to virulent misanthropy. Norman Rodway is a splendidly cynical Apamantus and a heap of Johns also excel: Welsh as the admirable steward Flavius, Shrapnel as the fiery Alcibiades, Fortune and Bird as the poet and painter, Justin as the craven senator, while James Cossins' Lucullus epitomises the hypocrisy of Timon's sycophants. It's a pity about Diana Dors' dreadful tart Timandra, but all the other parts are spoken with rare clarity and intelligence. Director Miller must be credited with so clear and moving exposition which even survives the upside-down filming of Pryce's head at the close.
This minor Shakespeare is more of a fable than a full-blown plot. We
first meet Timon giving a feast for his 'friends' (a bunch of
flatterers and fakes), lavishing praise and jewels on them. He is an
innocent amongst a pack of wolves.
When his fortune changes and he needs their help, each friend turns their back on him, as the philosopher foretold in Act One. Timon then turns sage and prophet, railing at the world which abandoned him.
Jonathan Pryce heads the cast and is a wonderful Timon, turning seamlessly from the generous, open-hearted fool to the twisted, unhappy beggar. John Shrapnel is about the best of the supporting cast, although all are good within the constraints of their character stereotypes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Though certainly one of Shakespeare's lesser known comedies, I have
noticed that it is becoming performed more and more often here in
London. The current obsessions with money and celebrity tally very well
with this play, and it could certainly do with another screen
This one isn't too bad, although dark lighting is overused in both Timon's early scenes as a rich man and his latter scenes as a poor one. The effect, at least scenically, is a bit dreary, and I would have liked some brighter lighting earlier on to offer more contrast.
Jonathan Pryce certainly acquits himself well as Timon, and he alone stands out among the actors. It is certainly poignant to see scurrying around in sand and filth lamenting his fate, like Gollum in "Lord of the Rings". The scene where he throws water over his fair-weather friends is also very well done.
Give it a look, if you can find it, and see for yourself.
I know that Timon of Athens is not the best of Shakespeare plays, and I
would rank it near the bottom of his list.
This version of Timon of Athens lacked many things; pace, energy and most of all Shakespearian techniques. There was a clear lack of orchestration from all members of the cast, the use of pause was found all over the place and the rhythm of the pentameter was non existent. I had hoped that this was to be a good piece of Shakespearian drama, especially having seen the cast list and yet I found it very disappointing and would not recommend to anyone, especially not fans of Shakespeare.
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