Film Review – The Merry Wives of Windsor (1982)

Another film from The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare series from the BBC. However, unlike our last encounter with this series, this film has some redeeming qualities. First and foremost is that there are some actually decent actors in this cast. Uncle Vernon from the Harry Potter films plays Falstaff with a full beard that is probably all his. Probably lesser known to some is Mrs. Jennings from Sense and Sensibility (also in the Harry Potter films as the original Gryffindor portrait Fat Lady) plays Mrs. Quickly. But perhaps the most impressive cast member is Ben Kingsley (before he was a Sir) playing Mr. Ford. Our young couple of Fenton and Anne are actually pretty good looking but once again the internet has failed in providing me with pictures of them. Sadly the actor playing Fenton gets stuck in the high collars and poofy trousers and tights look for the entire film, the poor sod. I seriously doubt those were comfortable.

Speaking of the costumes, everyone is pretty well-dressed in their Elizabethan finery. With the exception of the fairy scene at the end of the play, no one’s skirts are too wide. The gents also get a pretty good deal with their costumes and only have to wear knee high stockings with their short pants rather than the full-on tights look. I was particularly envious of Slender’s hat which sadly isn’t in the picture below, but you can see he’s a pretty tatty dresser.

Anne and Slender

The back of Anne's head is not a great indicator of how pretty she is. But isn't Slender a tatty dresser?

The best part of this film, which at 2 hours and 47 minutes is best viewed in chunks rather than in one sitting, is the superb acting of Ben Kingsley. He takes Ford’s jealousies to neurotic heights and makes the character an insecure and fidgety man who is forever trying to get the other men to pay attention to his cries of his wife’s unfaithfulness. His scenery chewing reaches even greater heights when he plays Ford pretending to be Brook for Falstaff. His voice, laugh, and facial expressions are priceless. Sadly, Falstaff wasn’t nearly as funny and came across as far harsher than I had read him. Although seeing him in the ridiculous fringed hat when he was dressed as a woman was pretty entertaining and actually overshadowed him when wearing stag’s horns on his head.

The director on this film did a really decent job with the material. Soliloquies and asides are addressed directly to the camera with the actors being unafraid of looking straight at us, which makes it far more enjoyable. I also really enjoyed the silent subplot that the director inserted of Mrs. Quickly hooking up with Pilot (one of Falstaff’s former cronies) as their eye-flirting was pretty hysterical.

Creepy fairies

Unfortunately, the ending of the play wasn’t quite as awesome as I’d hoped for. While the children dressed up as fairies are pretty adorable, the picking on Falstaff felt far too choreographed and didn’t have the feeling of chaos that I thought the scene deserved. However, the choreography of Slender and Dr. Caius running away with their “Anne”s while the real Anne runs off with Fenton is well done. Once all is resolved, the film ends with singing and a procession of the actors walking across the “hills” leaving me to wonder if there’s some unwritten rule in this series that all films must end this way.

Thus ends our first encounter with Falstaff, who will crop up again later in the year. On Sunday, we’ll move on to one of my favourite comedies, Twelfth Night.

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