May 21st: Gender bending

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109. Twelfth Night (Trevor Nunn, 1996)

Trevor Nunn is a big name in theatre. He’s made a few contributions to the cinematic lexicon of Shakespeare too. But I doubt that this is the best of the bunch. Twelfth Night is a comedy of the most typical Shakespearian circumstances, mistaken identities, switched genders and misplaced affections. Nunn’s wife, the elfin Imogen Stubbs, is Viola. Separated from her twin brother during the course of a storm at sea she washes ashore and disguises herself as a man setting off a series of bizarre comedic events before the inevitable resolution. Whilst the performances are pretty strong, Stubbs and Helena Bonham Carter especially, the whole production feels a bit flat. I really struggled to get involved or interested in the film. Transferral of Shakespeare to screen is a tricky business but it can be successful and interesting – I really enjoyed Roman Polanski’s Macbeth for example. This translation seems to lack a sense of the cinematic, it isn’t much of a surprise to see that this is Nunn’s only film – the remainder of his work is predominantly stage or television. I suspect his strengths lie elsewhere.

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