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Twelfth Night 

After a shipwreck, believing her brother has been killed, Viola disguises herself as a boy named Cesario and becomes a courtier to Orsino, who sends her to deliver a message of his love to Olivia, but she falls for the messenger instead.


John Sichel


William Shakespeare (by)




Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Alec Guinness ... Malvolio
Tommy Steele ... Feste
Ralph Richardson ... Sir Toby Belch
Joan Plowright ... Viola - Sebastian
Gary Raymond ... Orsino
Adrienne Corri ... Olivia
John Moffatt ... Sir Andrew Aguecheek
Sheila Reid ... Maria
Riggs O'Hara Riggs O'Hara ... Fabian
Paul Curran ... Sea Captain
Richard Leech ... Antonio
John Byron John Byron ... Priest
Christopher Timothy ... Valentine
Kurt Christian ... Curio
Gerald Moon Gerald Moon ... Gardener's Boy


After a shipwreck, believing her brother has been killed, Viola disguises herself as a boy named Cesario and becomes a courtier to Orsino, who sends her to deliver a message of his love to Olivia, but she falls for the messenger instead.

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Release Date:

12 July 1970 (UK) See more »

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


In the can for approx 2 years before it managed to secure a transmission in the UK under the Saturday Night Theatre umbrella. See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits title is John Dexter's Production of Twelfth Night See more »


Version of Macbeth (1993) See more »

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User Reviews

How British television culture has changed over the last few decades!
1 February 2017 | by JamesHitchcockSee all my reviews

This is a television version of "Twelfth Night" made by ATV (part of Britain's ITV network) in 1970 and broadcast as part of its "Sunday Night Theatre" series. That sentence, incidentally, shows just how much British television culture has changed over the last few decades. Even in the sixties and seventies ITV was sometimes dismissed as the "downmarket" commercial rival of the more "highbrow" public-service BBC, yet it could still broadcast a Shakespeare play during prime time on a weekend evening. I could not imagine that happening on ITV today, or for that matter on either of the two terrestrial BBC channels.

I will not set out the plot in detail because it is so well known. The main plot revolves around a curious love-triangle involving its three main characters, Duke Orsino, Countess Olivia and Viola; there is also a comic sub-plot involving a trick played on Olivia's steward Malvolio by her uncle Sir Toby Belch and his friends. At least, critics and academics generally refer to the "main plot" and the "sub-plot" in this way, but, as another reviewer has pointed out, in this production it is the so-called "sub-plot" which seems more prominent. Certainly, the first three actors credited all play characters in the sub-plot; Ralph Richardson plays Sir Toby, Alec Guinness plays Malvolio and the pop star Tommy Steele plays Olivia's jester Feste.

The only feature-film version with which I am familiar is Trevor Nunn's from 1996. Some have criticised this production for underplaying the play's comic element and blurring the supposed differences in tone between the main plot and sub-plot, but I have always felt that Nunn and his actors offer us an alternative interpretation of the play which gives us fresh insights into it. In this interpretation Andrew Aguecheek remains a comical fool- it would be difficult to make him anything else- but the other three main characters in the sub-plot are treated to some extent as tragic figures. Ben Kingsley's Feste becomes an ageing, sardonic, world-weary philosopher. Nigel Hawthorne's Malvolio, the one character for whom there is no happy ending, is a dignified and dedicated servant who is tricked into making a fool of himself by a gang of people who have taken an irrational dislike to him. And Sir Toby (brilliantly played by the comedian Mel Smith) becomes a rather sad figure, an elderly man of wealth and noble family who realises too late that he has wasted his life in drink, debauchery and the company of low-minded friends and that there might indeed be more things in this life than cakes and ale.

John Dexter here offers us a rather more conventional "Twelfth Night". The most unconventional thing about it is Steele's Feste, sixties pop idol as Shakespearean clown and something, I must admit, of an acquired taste. Richardson's Sir Toby is a jovial old roisterer, with something of a military bearing about him. One can imagine him as an old soldier determined to enjoy life to the full now he has returned from the wars. Guinness's Malvolio is a cold, joyless, Puritanical individual, sniffily disapproving of all forms of enjoyment or celebration. (Some have speculated that Shakespeare created the character to mock the Puritans of his day). Besides his Puritanism, his other defining characteristics are self-love and a sense of his own importance; there is a suggestion that his wooing of Olivia is motivated less by love for her person than by ambition and a desire to have "greatness", in the sense of the wealth and privilege he will enjoy as Olivia's husband, thrust upon him.

Turning to the main plot, there is nothing particularly wrong with Gary Raymond's Orsino or Adrienne Corri's Olivia, except that I felt that they were rather overshadowed by Richardson and Guinness, two giants of the British acting profession. There is something wrong with Joan Plowright in the dual role of Viola and her brother Sebastian. Shakespeare never tells us how old the twin siblings are, but as both Sebastian and Viola (when in her male disguise as Cesario) are referred to as "boy" or "youth", and as Sebastian is presumably still beardless, I would guess they are supposed to be in their late teens or early twenties. Plowright was 41 at the time, and never comes close to suggesting a teenage or twenty-something girl. Her attempts to impersonate a teenage or twenty-something boy are even less convincing. (Imogen Stubbs, 34 at the time but looking younger, was much more successful in this respect in the 1996 version).

Nunn's film was shot on location in Cornwall, with costumes suggesting a vaguely 19th century setting, but this version was clearly filmed in a studio with more traditionally Elizabethan sets and costumes. Television productions from the sixties and seventies, even when they are not lost forever- as, alas, so many of them have been- tend to be locked away in the archives, with only very limited opportunities for the public to see them, but I was lucky enough to catch "Twelfth Night" when it was recently shown on the "London Live" channel, if only for the rare chance it offered to see two of Britain's acting greats in a Shakespearean production which has been preserved for posterity. 7/10, which would have been higher with a better Viola.

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