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When Sir John Falstaff decides that he wants to have a little fun he writes two letters to a pair of Window wives: Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. When they put their heads together and compare missives, they plan a practical joke or two to teach the knight a lesson. But Mistress Ford's husband is a very jealous man and is pumping Falstaff for information of the affair. Meanwhile the Pages' daughter Anne is beseiged by suitors. Written by
Director David Hugh Jones originally wanted to shoot the entire film on location in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's home town, but when this proved impossible, he had production designer Don Homfray design a house based on the real life house which Shakespeare's son-in-law, Dr. Tom Hall, lived in. See more »
I enjoyed this 1982 BBC version, part of the BBC series of adaptations of the entire Shakespearean canon, a prototype for the modern farce. I think if you just take the play on face value, a hastily written work (prose rather than verse), its intention to entertain, displacing Falstaff from the History plays to a comic setting, then I found it watchable. There's no substitute for seeing the plays performed which is what this version does, bringing out the word play and comedy (puns,like when Brooks arrives, offering free booze to Falstaff, who quips, 'Such Brooks are welcome to me, that o'erflows with liquor').
I actually found Ben Kingsley's performance entertaining, Ford's jealous rage is supposed to be comically over the top as both he & Falstaff become the butt of the wives' comic mischief, but for different reasons. I didn't think it detracted from the play (You want OTT from Ben Kingsley? See him as the villain in 'Sexy Beast)'. The portrayal of Falstaff is problematic but that is not Richard Griffiths' fault. This is because we have seen a flawed human being in the Henry IV plays, the cause of wit and of wit in others, the father figure, who Hal seeks in flight from his own father & responsibilities, the braggart soldier yet a man who is also self-aware, the bad man we all know and love. Here in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor', he is caricatured as a lecherous old fool, who tends to use words in an exhibitionist manner.
I enjoyed all the performances, Alan Bennett a delight as Shallow, the playful wives, Judy Davis conveying the dignity and depth of Mrs Ford, the wife whose husband is consumed with jealousy & I liked the late Elizabeth Spriggs as Mistress Quickly, as well as Ron Cook as 'Simple. It was also interesting to find out that the house, its interior, was based on that of Shakespeare's own son-in-law.
It was amusing watching Shakespeare send up 'comedy accents', such as Dr Caius and Sir Hugh Evans, but I find it strange that Dr Caius's performance is the one many reviewers think stands out. Yes, it's very good, the Dr's mannerisms, the duel, his irascibility but it is comedy rooted in a stereotype,like the English RAF officer masquerading as the badly spoken French policeman in 'Allo, allo'. I think I find the relationship between Frank Ford & his long-suffering wife more interesting.
I gave this a 7 star rating (7.5 would be fairer) as I watched it with a 20 minute break but that's how one would watch a theatrical production with an interval. I thought it didn't pall at three hours.
*Fans of 'Withnail & I': Richard Griffiths went on to play Uncle Monty, but Ralph Brown, who played Danny, the drug dealer, has a minor role in 'The Merry Wives...' as one of the servants assigned to carry Falstaff away in the laundry basket.
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