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Old 10th Jan 2012, 11:18   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)

Shakespeare didn’t exactly help his cause when he put fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However they were interpreted by the acting company in the Globe or the Swan, either in the late C16th or today, of necessity they would be human, lumpen beings, not sparkles of energy or butterflies, and so it is in Michael Hoffman’s 1999 film.

Obviously there can be comedic value in the solidity of male actors portraying Moth or Cobweb or Peaseblossom but I imagine there is more serious purpose in conjuring a magical forest inhabited by the royal fairy consorts and their retinue. Hoffman bulks up on this issue and this has a great deal to do with the failure of this film to catch the imagination. The set-dressing is cumbersome and childish, over-lush and earthbound: Titania’s feathery cradle-bed is mechanically winched up with cranks and chains, albeit swathed in fake ivy; Puck initially moves through the forest sitting on a huge tortoise that recalls something of The Never-Ending Story. Rupert Everett’s brooding Oberon conveys something of the disturbing otherness of the faery realm but Michelle Pfeiffer is never less than earthbound and ordinary as Titania.

Casting is such a mix of fortunes that it is difficult to watch this film without wanting to discard half the actors. Although I have major difficulties with American actors keeping their accents for Shakespeare, both David Strathairn as Duke Theseus and Calista Flockhart as Helena submerge them adequately. Dominic West and Christian Bale make for a decent Lysander and Demetrius but there is never enough interaction in the mortals’ mishaps to develop them as characters.

Opinion seems to vary about Kevin Kline’s role as Nick Bottom, interpreted here as a man of station and self-opinion quite beyond that of his fellow Rude Mechanicals, pitiable but ultimately humbled. His actual over-acting seems the height of foolishness when bolstering a role which is in part about eager hamming-it-up and over-acting and making oneself indispensable to an acting troupe. The besuited preening and over-the-top “comedy turn” removes this sub-plot from the naturalistic merriment of a bunch of worker-friends. Had Brian Glover played the part with common-man Barnsley-born accent and drinking-buddies bonhomie, the transformation into an ass would have displayed the bawdiness it warrants; Kline almost parrots Michael Keaton’s stylistic delivery in the 1993 Much Ado and fails to find the humour or pathos in the role. The Pyramus and Thisbe play which should be the comic highlight and conclusion of the evening’s entertainment is tediously played and only comes alive when Thisbe (Sam Rockwell) abandons her/his trilling descant voice and truly acts his final lines in earnest.

On the whole the British actors carry off the subdued honours in a film version that is wooden or leaden by turns. No fault of the setting (Italy rather than the woody suburbs of Athens), nor of the period (later C19th) with its bicycles and gramophones and riding habits, but more of the incongruity of accents and the deathly solidity of the fairy realm that strives for magic by throwing more tinsel and fake foliage over stage-sets.

It might be interesting to hunt out Jonathan Miller’s 1981 BBC version, with Helen Mirren, Phil Daniels, Robert Lindsay and Brian Glover, which I do remember as decent but might be just as studio-bound as this.

for Rupert Everett and David Strathairn and the bits with the crossed-lovers.
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Old 31st May 2016, 17:36   #2
JunkMonkey
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Default Re: A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)

Not able to find a thread specifically for 'The Dream' as we pretentious thesps are wont to call it I'll just tag onto this one.

last night I had the unfortunate experience of starting to watch Russel T Davis' Midsummer Night's Dream and gave up after about five minutes.

The opening credits are Baz Lurhman's Romeo + Juliet.

Athens is a totalitarian fascist state (which seems like the default position for modern settings of Shakespeare since the 1995 Richard 3 - and possibly before).

Hypolita is wheeled in strapped to a gurney and muzzled a la Hannibal Lector.

Egeus, Hermia and Demetrius are black - not in itself a problem but in a fascist state? A multicultural fascist state?

The wheels fell off my incredulity and I gave up.
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