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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
The BBC Shakespeare series often posed a problem - low budgets, stage-bound performances, odd camera-work, leaden pace - but this version of Cymbeline, one of my favourites of Shakespeare's lesser known plays, is not that bad.
Certainly it suffers from the same low budget and lack of location work, but it manages to transcend this with a largely excellent cast. Richard Johnson and Michael Gough, Claire Bloom and Helen Mirren, Paul Jesson and Graham Crowden, especially, keep the verse moving and get truly inside their characters. Mirren is heartbreaking as Imogen, with her husband exiled, and herself assuming a new identity in the wild when her life is in danger.
Some scenes work less well than others - the dream of Posthumous when he sees father, mother, and Jupiter (the scene gives Marius Goring and Michael Hordern a chance to shine, but it is preposterous), and the final scene's poor acting from Michael Pennington - usually reliable he goes too OTT here. But the scene with Imogen and the corpse she thinks is her husband ... and the mock-seduction scene with her asleep and Iachimo in wicked mode (Robert Lindsey, not that believable in much of this play but good in this scene).
This Cymbeline is good, mainly because it is really the only time the difficult play has been put on the screen. Within the BBC series it is one of the better ones, not too stagy, not too bland.
And the musical arrangement of 'Fear no more the heat o'the sun' is beautiful.
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