Film Review – Timon of Athens (1981)

So what feels like ages ago I sat through yet another production from The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare series. As set out earlier, when it comes to these adaptations I’ve now gotten to the point where I’ll pick just one act to watch. In the case of Timon of Athens (follow the link to refresh your memory on the plot) I went for Act IV. However, as I’m writing this review probably 3 months after I watched the single act it probably won’t be the most detailed.

The first thing worth noting is that Jonathan Pryce is playing Timon! Now while my first filmic encounter with Jonathan Pryce was probably in Tomorrow Never Dies he will always be Governor Swann to me. And boy is Governor Swann having a rough time of it in Act IV. He’s got strange body make up that makes his skin look like it’s peeling and burnt and he’s wearing nothing but a loincloth although everyone else he encounters are in full Elizabethan dress. Apparently the only things I felt were worth noting when I watched Act IV was that the gold is simply gold coins which are just hanging out in the ground (as gold coins are wont to do) and that I quite liked the dresses on the harlots. Jonathan Pryce carries the bulk of the acting and is lovely but it’s definitely not a film to write home about (although I did manage this post).

Jonathan Pryce, Timon of Athens

Poor Governor Swann in a loincloth.

Film Review – Troilus and Cressida (1981)

Apologies for lateness on the film reviews, fair reader. I had some access issues with my library but everything is hunky-dory now. Thus, I will attempt to fit in all of the film reviews I owe you within the next two weeks. However, please note that the film review for Coriolanus will be delayed as I’m planning to review the new Ralph Fiennes adaptation which isn’t released until later in August.

Moving on to Troilus and Cressida, as is the new rule for Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare films, I only watched one act, in this case Act IV. And surprisingly, it was pretty decent. Before I dish about the acting though, a couple notes. First, although the play is set in ancient Troy, the costumes are Elizabethan (which is how Shakespeare would have done it, but let’s have some imagination BBC). Also, the sets are somewhere in the middle range of possibilities for this film series with buildings actually looking relatively building-esque (although not very ancient Troy) but the “outdoors” being a dismal attempt at making a stage look like outside.

The cast is decent with Troilus being one of the stand-out actors. Also noteworthy for those of you familiar with the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice (yes, the one with Colin Firth) is that Ulysses is played by Mr. Bennet. If that doesn’t serve as a hint, my major complaint about this cast is that everyone is too old to be playing their characters (except for Cressida). Major casting offeders are Paris for his hideous beard (and I’m a girl who is not opposed to facial hair), Ajax for not being the mountain of muscle he’s supposed to be, and Hector for being particularly too old.

So what made the act worth watching? It was entirely about Troilus and Cressida who are absolutely adorable. I chose Act IV as it includes their very cute morning after scene as well as Cressida being hauled back to the Greek camp. The pair of them are very sweet and Troilus in particular is thoroughly believable as being in love with Cressida. However, it should be noted that from the moment Cressida receives the news that she is going to be sent away from Troilus, she spends the rest of the scene wailing and delivering her lines through tears. While an acceptable acting choice, it could be irritating to some viewers. I think Troilus’ sweetness cancels it out. My only complaint is that no hint is given through visual cues during Act IV as to why on earth Cressida decides to break her vow to Troilus. I was almost tempted to watch Act V to see how the adaptation dealt with it, but the key word is almost.

Troilus and Cressida

Cressida and Troilus, much more clothed then when I saw them in Act IV.

Film Review – Henry VIII (1979)

Let’s face it, fair reader, when it comes to The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare series, I have given up on watching the complete films. It’s just not happening anymore. So I’ve switched to a new approach any time I have to sit through another one of these. I’m now just picking one of the acts that I most want to see and watching that one. So for Henry VIII, I watched Act IV because it had a lot of Katharine in it. It also happens to be the shortest act in the play. Although I swear that wasn’t a motivating factor.

The act opens with Anne looking at herself in a mirror (probably a transition from the prior act). We then get to spend some time hanging out with the two random dudes on a streetcorner. Although for the film, they’ve put them on a small set of stairs rather than a street corner. One of the random dudes is a foodie apparently because he eats for the entire scene. The other random dude is Barty Crouch Senior from Harry Potter (David Tennant’s dad in Goblet of Fire, if the character reference is too obscure for you). The random dudes are intercut with actual on location footage of the procession leaving Anne’s coronation. Anne looks cold but pretty. The costumes for this one are actually really great. We get some overlong and silent shots of Anne being crowned and Henry sitting on his throne. Not once do either Anne or Henry speak in this entire act. Yay me for picking an act where the titular character is barely in it and doesn’t speak.

Katharine, Henry VIII

Katharine early in the play. She looks sicklier later on.

The rest of act is Katharine being sick prior to her eventual death. But I am so impressed because there are real sets! Not just wooden stilt thingies on a soundstage but actual sets that look like real rooms and actual furniture that looks… not that comfortable really. Anyway, the actress playing Katharine is pretty decent. At least she looks convincingly sick. During the part of the scene where Katharine has her vision (I may have skipped this in my play recap, it’s just girls dancing near Katharine with a garland that’s symbolic of death) there’s a weird bleed through effect that I’m sure was cutting edge in 1979. Now it’s just… underwhelming. Katharine progressively sicker over the course of the scene and we then are treated to an overlong shot of Katharine’s corpse laid out in state on her bed. And that’s the end of the act. See how painless that was? My one act approach is totally the best plan ever.

With that, we’re done with the English histories! Huzzah! Sunday (possibly Monday, it is a long weekend) I will be diving into the ancient histories with Troilus and Cressida. Until then, fair reader.

Film Review – Richard III (1955)

Fair reader, you are going to be so impressed with me. For the first time in weeks, I’ve made it all the way through a Shakespeare film. And you are going to be so glad I did. But I’m getting ahead of myself. So the reason I made it all the way through the film this week is that I didn’t have to watch a Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare film. Instead I was treated to the classical acting style of Laurence Olivier. Take a look at the trailer and then on to the review!

So the cast in this is pretty decent although the only name that’s really stuck around with any sort of reputation is Olivier himself who plays Richard III (of course). In terms of playing Richard, while he has a bad wig (as does every male character in this film almost), Olivier is really too good looking to be playing Richar,d who is deformed. Olivier gives him a limp (which varies in severity over the course of the film) and he holds his left hand in a weird fist but there’s no effort made for the hunchback that you’ll see in other representations of Richard.

The film is in Technicolor and it looks pretty good. The sets are believable as actual castles, although the proximity that’s given between the palace and the Tower seems a little too close to me (as in, I step out this door, cross a tiny courtyard, and look, I’m at the Tower!). However, the real beauty is in the costumes. While the men’s are just fine with the requisite funny hats, it is the women’s gowns, particularly Anne’s, that are really gorgeous. Also I’m a sucker for hats with veils, even when the hats are ridiculously tall like the ones in this film.

Olivier, Richard III

Laurence Olivier as Richard III

Now on to the actual content. The film opens with Edward IV’s coronation and there’s some small speechifying before Richard gets to deliver his “Now is the winter of our discontent speech” which provides the historical context necessary but it lacks the drama of that cold opening. Olivier has also edited Richard’s speech adding in content from a later soliloquy in Act I so that it all happens at once. However, the interesting visual motif that recurs throughout the film (besides that of the crown) is shots of Richard’s shadow on the ground. Beware the evils of the shadow. Olivier also delivers all of his soliloquies and asides directly to the camera and he has this sort of smile that makes the viewer an almost co-conspirator in his evils.

The other major change is Richard’s interchange with Anne which has been split into two separate scenes, which makes it a bit more realistic. They’ve changed the corpse in the coffin from that of Anne’s father-in-law to her husband, and it takes two exchanges before Anne agrees to marry Richard. But she comes across as a bit detached verging on catatonic towards the end of the film.

Richard and Anne, Richard III

Anne’s most proactive moment

Given the age of the film, there are some acting moments that made me laugh out loud as there are some weird facial expressions from Olivier (with dramatic music to accompany them). I also chortled when everyone in the room at the news of George’s death all gasped at exactly the same time and exactly the same way. But the biggest laugh came at the end of the film (I swear, I’ll get to it soon).

Unlike the play, all of the murders happen on camera (except Anne’s). Sadly the ghosts suffer from the lack of creepiness that comes with 1950s special effects. Of course, the weird stage whispers the actors use aren’t particularly terrifying either. However, while final battle scenes are filmed in the real outdoors, California makes a very poor England.

Now the ending deserves a paragraph all its own. The battle lacks a certain epicness one could hope for. And the armour Olivier is wearing is highly ridiculous. But it is Richard’s death scene that truly takes the cake. It really makes the 2 1/2 hours all worth while because this may just be THE most over the top death scene ever committed to film. Take a look for yourself (if you’re really interested you can go back about a minute to hear Olivier deliver my favourite line from the play, “A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!). Amazing, no?

Laurence Olivier, Richard III

Hello ridiculous death scene

So final verdict on this one is that once again, Richard doesn’t come across as evil as I would have hoped. Really, I was hoping he’d be more Moriarty-esque (and if you have not watched BBC’s Sherlock, go do that right now). Instead, despite the hideous things he does, he comes across as just mildly evil.

Next week will be our final English history play (huzzah!) with Henry VIII. Looking forward to some head chopping.

Film Review – Henry VI Part 3 (1983)

Fair reader, I just want to have a moment of silence for the fact that this film wasn’t directed by Kenneth Branagh. Are you sick of me mentioning him? Too bad. It keeps my brain from atrophying while I try to watch these Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare films. So you’ll probably have to live with it for a while longer.

Like last week, I did not make it through this entire film (212 minutes!). I made it through about 45. And there’s not hugely interesting or new things to say about this film. The sets are basically the same from Part 2, except the wood structures have all been painted black. The costumes are still bad and most of the “leather armour” just looks like bad 80s punk fashion. But at least the actors are now age appropriate for their parts so that’s a positive. I was also excited to see the actor playing Richard, mostly because I adored him as Chivery in Little Dorrit (go watch it, it’s awesome). However, the actor playing Clifford has a really badly faked Scottish accent. In my 45 minutes, nothing super exciting happened. I got one battle sequence which was basically groups of men shoving each other back and forth while they both held pikes (not a euphemism, although that would have made things far more interesting). So enjoy the one screen cap of the film I could find (even the general internet hasn’t watched this film much).

File:Fathers and Sons BBC.jpg

I’ll be back on Sunday with Richard III, my penultimate English history play, and our chance to encounter one of Shakespeare’s great villains.

Film Review – Henry VI Part 2 (1983)

Ok, fair reader, I’m going to be honest. I only watched 55 minutes of this week’s film adaptation. And the prospect of watching another 2 1/2 hours of it made me want to cry. So this week you’re getting a review of the first 55 minutes of the film. Because once again, we hang out with our film fallback, The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare series (I swear Kenneth Branagh, as I watch more and more of these I become more and more serious about chaining you to a director’s chair so that there will be better Shakespearean film adaptations out there).

Anyway, so what did I learn in the first 55 minutes? They did a weird job in casting for this one. Henry VI is beak-nosed, soft-voiced, and pathetic (really only the last quality was necessary). The actress playing Margaret was too old (actually this is true of basically half the cast, particularly Henry. How am I supposed to buy the fact that an actor in his late 30s to early 40s is a young king barely above the age of majority?) and she got stuck with some weird hair. Suffolk isn’t nearly as hot or as manly as he should be. If you’re going to cheat on the king, the duke better be worth it, IMO. And York, my beloved York, wasn’t nearly as awesome as I could have hoped for. However, it may be of interest that the actor playing York is the same man that played Captain Smith in the Kate and Leo version of Titanic.

Margaret and Suffolk, Henry VI Part 2

Margaret’s first appearance on the arm of Suffolk (notice lack of hotness). The confetti hides how old she is.

The sets are laughably bad. We’re literally dealing with poor wooden sets slapped up in the background to make it seem like… someplace. It definitely doesn’t pass as a palace. Or an area outside a palace either. Maybe a really bad three-ring circus. The costumes are ok. But I quickly realized that the highlight of this film were going to be the funny hats.

Duke of York, Henry VI Part 2

I like you Captain Smith, but as York, you’re lacking the necessary awesomeness.

And speaking of laughably bad, let’s talk about the play content I got in the first hour. Most of it was taken up by Act I (that’s right, only a whopping five or so minutes were Act II. See why I’m not rushing out to watch the rest?). The film opens with a couple heralds rolling down a banner that says Henry VI Part 2, which is fine, except that the banner is then just hanging in the background for the first twenty minutes of the film, which is a little distracting. Other disappointments include the witch/conjurer scene. I was hoping for something Macbeth like in quality, but this scene was bad. Not scary, creepy, or even vaguely mysterious. It was difficult to determine whether the director was trying to imply that the witch and conjurer were con artists or just felt like not hiding all the “special effects” to create the thunder and altered voice for summoning the spirit. Oh, and my final complaint is that while Somerset and York are wearing red and white flowers respectively (as they should), the flowers look nothing like roses. Instead they’re just really fake looking fake flowers. Le sigh.

Thus ends the film review. I’ll be back on Sunday when I’ll conclude the trilogy with Henry VI Part 3.

Film Review – Henry V (1989)

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It’s my favourite time here on the blog, which means only one thing: a film adaptation with Kenneth Branagh! Expect plenty of gushing, especially as it was his directorial debut and it’s really awesome. And that’s saying something for a Shakespeare film from 1989. Take a look at the trailer below and then on to the review.

Cast highlights include Kenneth Branagh (of course) as Henry V and Emma Thompson as Katharine. I’ll talk about their combined awesomeness later. Other actors of note include Judi Dench as Hostess Quickly and a very young (like mid-teens) Christian Bale as Boy (I skipped this character in the play review. He’s not super interesting in the play but Branagh makes him a sympathetic character in the film).

The costume design is quite lovely (it even won an Oscar in 1990) and the sets are simple, understated, and entirely passable for a real castle. Also worth noting is the score, which has that really great cinematic feel a film like this needs. So on to the highlights of the film itself.

First thing worth noting is that Branagh has actually included the Chorus in this film. However, rather than a small group of actors, we have a single actor in plain modern dress addressing the camera. While it might seem an odd choice to keep these scenes in, it works really well, partially because of how they’re shot, partially because of how amazing the actor playing the chorus is, and partially (in my biased opinion) because Kenneth Branagh makes everything awesome. I highly recommend you check out the prologue to see what I mean.

Chorus, Henry V

The extremely awesome Chorus.

The score isn’t the only cinematic thing going on in this film. Branagh unabashedly uses some highly dramatic shots to really make the film more impressive. From his first entrance as Henry V which is all about the impressive power walk (which is only made slightly less impressive by the amount of eyeliner he’s wearing in the following shots) to the scene where he delivers the line of “Once more unto the breach” backlit by an explosion while sitting on a rearing white horse, Branagh brings the drama. There are also some truly beautiful shots such as the wide angle when he negotiates with the governor of Harfleur, sitting on his horse in a patch of moonlight.

Branagh also proves his brilliance as a screenplay adapter, as he includes flashbacks in the film to give us brief shots of Falstaff (played by Hagrid!) and Henry in his wilder days and using small sections of scenes from Henry IV Part 1. He’s also cut down the scenes for Bardolph and co. as well as Fluellen (played by Bilbo – the not Martin Freeman one), and instead gives the greater focus to Henry V and the narrative of a man proving himself as a king.

Agincourt, Henry V

Battle is gross

Perhaps the best aspect of this film is how well it does at actually including battle scenes. Unlike the other history plays I’ve watched up to now, there’s no skirting around the battle scenes. Instead, the battle of Agincourt gets a solid 10-15 minutes of screen time in which Branagh does an admirable job of capturing the chaos and horrific grossness of battle. This is also the moment where young Christian Bale does his best work by (SPOILER ALERT) playing a very sad corpse. (END SPOILER)

Boy, Henry V

Sniff for young Christian Bale.

However, my favourite scene is at the end when Henry comes to court Katharine. Not only do I like it because Henry is a thorough charmer and Kenneth Branagh is brilliant at pulling off his self-conscious and slightly inept attempt to win her, but I also like it because there is the amazing duo of Kenneth Branagh and the lovely Emma Thompson on screen together at the same time. While he does far more talking than she does, their chemistry is still amazing. Man, I love watching these two.

Henry V and Katharine

Love!

So unsurprisingly, another Kenneth Branagh adaptation that I really liked. I swear the BBC just needs to chain him to a director’s chair, get him to direct the complete works of Shakespeare, and the film review portion of this blog would be SO  much more fun for me. I’ll be back on Sunday when we move into the first part of a trilogy with Henry VI Part 1.

Film Review – Henry IV Part 1 (1979)

Once again, the universe loves me, but not quite enough. In looking up some details for the film I watched this week, I discovered that there will be a new Henry IV (Parts 1 and 2) coming out some time this year with Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons. And I am super excited. But unfortunately, it’s not out yet so I instead had to resort to my old friend, The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare series.

The film starts with a brief recap of what happened during Richard II and then dives straight into the play proper. We still have the same actor playing Henry IV, but there’s a different actor playing Falstaff than in Merry Wives of Windsor. Prince Henry suffers from a horrible haircut and the actor playing Hotspur has super curly hair that could use a bit of hair product (and I say this as someone with curly hair). The surprise actor for me was that Worcester is played by the actor that’s Mr. Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances (a brilliant British comedy you should definitely check out if you don’t know it).

The costumes are not too notable although King Henry does get stuck in one ridiculous hat early on in the film. Also, the plumage on King Henry, Prince Henry, and Prince Henry’s helmets during the battle at the end of the film are epic. Sadly, they don’t actually wear the helmets that much. But there is full on body armour so there’s some decent clanking going on. Also, Lady Percy is given some anachronistic eye make up (at least I don’t think Hotspur’s wife should be trying to perfect the smoky eye).

Speaking of Lady Percy, the scenes between her and Hotspur are absolutely adorable and I actually enjoyed watching them (gasp!). The two actors bring the banter and the pair of them are quite charming to the point where I felt sorry for Lady Percy knowing that Hotspur was going to die.

But let’s get to the real party, the battle scenes. Because there actually are some! Even when it’s just people talking on the field, there’s sounds of battle in the background and at least a couple people in the background pretending to fight. However, the swords don’t make the right sounds when they clash. They sound like fake swords when they hit each other rather than the sound you’d expect from heavy swords. Despite that flaw, the swordfight between Prince Henry and Hotspur is still pretty good although they include a bit of wrestling in there as well, which can’t be comfortable when you’re wearing a suit of armor (real or not).

The final verdict is that the film is better than some in this series but still not up to the par of what I’d expect from a regular film. On Sunday I’ll be resolving the cliffhanger when I review Henry IV Part 2.

A Not Film Review – The Winter’s Tale (1981)

I lied to you, fair reader. I do not have a film review for this week. I did not get around to watching the film this week. And because I had renewed the film twice, I couldn’t renew it again. So I will instead provide you with pictures and you can insert the usual comments about any film from The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare series. Just imagine snarky comments about mediocre acting, bad sets, and extremely static/awkward camera work.

Aren’t you just inspired to rush out and watch this film? Me neither.

It’ll be back to business as usual on Sunday, when I’ll be reviewing Henry IV Part 1.

Film Review – Richard II (1978)

Apparently the universe is listening to my pleas for there to be better adaptations of the history plays because as I was poking around IMDb for the date on the version of Richard II that I watched, I discovered that there will be a version coming out some time this year with Sir Patrick Stewart as John of Gaunt (bonjour, mon capitaine!). Sadly, however, it is not out yet, so I once again I have watched A Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare film, just so you don’t have to. I spoil you, reader.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this adaptation is FAR better than the one I watched last week for King John. The most important difference is that the the actors in this film are not afraid to act. These men (and a very small number of women) are not afraid to break out the emotional range, which was nice. However, while the actors were capable, the cinematography is still pretty dull and so Twitter got some of my attention while watching this film.

That being said, the first act of the film managed to keep my attention for its duration. The actor playing Richard definitely makes the character pretty effeminate, an impression only enforced by his costumes, which contrasts strongly with the actor playing Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV to be) who is undoubtedly masculine. This contrast adds an interesting element to the conflict between these two men and makes it far more difficult to be sympathetic for Richard. The actor portrays him as mercurial and a bit ridiculous, although he does have a very sweet parting scene with his Queen towards the end of the film where we get a flash of of sympathy.

Shakespeare's Richard II 1978

Richard in his not-so-manly clothes.

Interestingly, two of our major female characters, the Duchess of Gloster and the Queen, are played by actresses that were in King John (Eleanor of Aquitane and Blanch, if you’re curious). While the Queen is a sympathetic character and probably the most interesting woman in the play, the Duchess of Gloster just gets stuck with a ridiculously ugly hat.

Duchess of Gloster 1978

"My husband dies and I get stuck with this ugly hat."

While the sets are still very stage-y, the film, for all of its lack of visual pizzazz, is shot to make the sets look as real as possible, so plywood castle walls always look slightly more real. It also helps that many of the “outdoor” scenes which are obviously on a stage are done at night so that they don’t come across as quite so ridiculous.

Scenes of note include Henry and Mowbray tossing their gloves on the ground to challenge each other to duels because the actors actually manage to make the action pretty impressive instead of giggle-worthy. Similarly, the scene on the jousting ground is actually pretty decent. The production actually sprung for two REAL horses (no coconuts for these guys), however, neither of the herald’s are as impressive or as attractive as Paul Bettany. Also of note during this scene are the so-ridiculous-they’re-epic helmets that Richard and Mowbray carry but never actually put on. Sadly, while Richard’s many speeches when he’s about to be deposed by Henry are shot so statically, they come across as interminable. However, he does have a bright moment during the fight scene right before his death. Unfortunately the fighting is so obviously fake (it helps if you HIT the other guy before he falls over) that the scene ultimately fizzles. The real winner of the film is the actor who plays Henry who manages to rock long hair and a beard (also a super ridiculous hat in one of his later scenes as king) and also comes across as sympathetic. So at least there’s something to look forward to when I watch Henry IV Part 1.

Henry and Richard, Richard II 1978

Henry is just so much more awesome than Richard. No wonder he gets to be king.

Speaking of Henry IV Part 1, I’ll actually be taking next week off from reading Shakespeare next week. But don’t despair, as I will finally be posting a film review for The Winter’s Tale next Wednesday. Until then, fair reader.