|TWELFTH NIGHT (1996)|
Helena Bonham Carter
Richard E. Grant
|"Why, this is very midsummer's madness."|
|Time: 134 mins.|
The main reason I wanted to see this film was because I just watched SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and "Twelfth Night" is referred to as the play Shakespeare writes following "Romeo & Juliet" in honor of his true love Viola, according to the movie. I also happen to love Shakespeare films so I figured this would be a special treat. I should have known better. Watching this so soon after SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE was bound to be a disappointment. Which is not to say that this version of TWELFTH NIGHT is not a good film. It is. It's just not VERY good. The actors are top notch and though they try to infuse this picture with life and romance, it just doesn't happen...at least not early enough to make you care. This is supposed to be a romantic comedy and though there are moments of romance and comedy, it's mostly boring, which I'm sure was not Shakespeare's fault.
The film takes place in the late 1800's and is about a group of people who are all in love with someone they can't have. It begins with a shipwreck that separates a brother and sister. Believing her brother Sebastian dead, Viola (Stubbs) assumes his identity and inquires for work as a page to the reigning magistrate, the Duke Orsino (Stephens). The only work the Duke has for Sebastian/Viola is to woo the lovely Lady Olivia (Bonham Carter) to his affections. He has tried everything to win her heart, but she will have none of it. Maybe a mere "boy" will have better luck. The boy does very well, opening the lady's heart to love. Unfortunately, his sweet words make her fall in love with him and cause her to despise the Duke even more. While this is going on, Olivia's drunkard cousin Sir Toby (Smith) is attempting to set her up with a friend of his, the equally alchoholic Sir Andrew (Grant). They carouse and plot with Maria (Staunton), the head housekeeper, and Feste (Kingsley), the local fool, to get Olivia to fall for Sir Andrew. An additional attempt for her affection is made by Malvolio (Hawthorne), the wicked butler, who makes a fool of himself.
As with many Shakesperean comedies, things get completely out of hand. Olivia is madly in love with Sebastian/Viola, Viola is head over heels for Orsino, Malvolio is convinced his Lady is after him and Sir Andrew is insane with jealously over the affair between Olivia and Sebastian, even though he's never even officially met Olivia. The second half of the film is filled with declarations of love, duels to save lost honor, mistaken identity and madness. Eventually, brother and sister are reunited, exposing Viola for the woman she truly is. Though she actually fell in love with his sister, Lady Olivia stays with Sebastian. Orsino also finds the true love he was searching for in Viola.
TWELFTH NIGHT is not a bad film, it just takes too long to get to the romance and comedy. The first half just plods along, making the second half a relief, but it doesn't completely rescue the film. The performances are good, especially Imogen Stubbs and Toby Stephens, but not good enough to make this special. Bonham Carter and Kingsley are also good, but these are roles they could have played in their sleep. They're not really given anything new or interesting to do here. If you like the cast and are into Shakespeare films you will probably like this version of TWELFTH NIGHT, but it won't blow your tights off.