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Cymbeline, the King of Britain, is angry that his daughter Imogen has chosen a poor (but worthy) man for her husband. So he banishes Posthumus, who goes to fight for Rome. Imogen (dressed as a boy) goes in search of her husband, who meanwhile has boasted to his pal Iachimo that Imogen would never betray him. And Iachimo's determined to prove him wrong. Written by
It would be much easier to make a laundry list of complaints about how "Shakespeare didn't know what he was doing," or "everyone and everything bores me," but let's do it the hard way and see what's here.
This is one of those late plays that academics can't classify as a tragedy, comedy or history. This is not a mistake of Shakespeare's, but a deliberate choice. "Cymbeline" is crammed full of incident, sprouts multiple strands running off in all directions, and miraculously pulls itself together at the end. In fact, some critics refer to "Cymbeline," "Pericles" and "The Winter's Tale" as the Miracle Plays.
So, assuming just for the moment that Shakespeare did know what he was doing, how well has he been served here? Helen Mirren as Imogen is herself a miracle, "in the moment" at every moment, totally committed to her character. John Kane and the ubiquitous Paul Jesson bring similar conviction to Pisanio and Clothen, respectively.
Michael Gough surprises with his model delivery of Shakespeare's language - clear and natural. More likely to be remembered for some spectacularly grungy horror movies, Gough has done his own reputation a disservice with his enthusiasm for constant work no matter how scuzzy the script. This is his only appearance in the Shakespeare series, and that's a real pity.
Richard Johnson rasps and scowls well as the King (check out his IMDb.com bio for a few surprises). Claire Bloom flirts with a Disney concept of an evil stepmother without quite going over the line. Michael Pennington acts everything that can be acted about Posthumus without the gift of making you care.
Robert Lindsay, so grand in comic roles in "Much Ado" and "Twelfth Night," here is the inverse of Helen Mirren, without a single moment of truth as Iachimo - a fumbling, external attempt at a villain by an actor outside his natural range.
Elijah Moshinsky's direction is of a piece with others of his in this series. Ignoring all Iron-Age references in the script (Julius Caesar is not long dead), Moshinsky's fascination with Old Masters' paintings gives us a coherent through line to the production, with a particularly wonderful mountain snow set designed by Barbara Gosnold. Occasionally the director provides a striking image, as when one character converses with the mirror reflection of another.
However, Moshinsky's editing is occasionally clumsy. When Iachimo presents his false proofs to Posthumus, the camera stays on one character or the other for far too long, and often the wrong one. We strain to see the other character, and aren't allowed to. This is distracting, maladroit, and just not good enough.
However "Cymbeline" has much to recommend it, and Helen Mirren's performance alone is worth the price of admission.
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