Twelfth Night

on October 25, 1996 by Ed Scheid
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   "Twelfth Night" updates Shakespeare's comedy to the late 19th century, giving it the look of a Merchant-Ivory production<197>especially given that one of the stars is Helena Bonham Carter, who appeared in their "A Room With a View" and "Howards End." The realism of the screen here emphasizes the slight plot. But director Trevor Nunn, whose stage productions have ranged from classics at Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company to such popular fare as "Les Miserables" and "Sunset Boulevard," has made an entertaining and fast-paced film with mistaken identity, cross-dressing and unrequited love.
   Twins Viola (Imogen Stubbs) and Sebastian (Steven Mackintosh) are separated during a shipwreck, and each thinks the other is dead. Viola disguises herself as a boy named Cesario and enters the service of the brooding Duke Orsino (Toby Stephens), who is in love with Olivia (Bonham Carter), who is in mourning for her brother and has sworn off any romantic relationship. When Orsino sends "Cesario" to plead his case with Olivia, Olivia falls in love with the messenger. (During these sequences, the shadowy interior of Olivia's estate is effectively contrasted with the sunny outdoor garden, where the romantic declarations occur.) By now, Viola has fallen in love with Orsino, who still thinks she is a boy. Eventually Sebastian appears, leading to further complications, especially with Olivia.
   The four romantic leads have a youthful energy. With a lowered voice, Stubbs is believable as a young boy, and she physically resembles Mackintosh, making their twindom convincing. But it's Nigel Hawthorne ("The Madness of King George") who steals the film as Malvolio, Olivia's pretentious servant who is tricked into thinking his mistress is in love with him. Ben Kingsley portrays Feste, a traveling singer who perceptively comments on the often misguided activities. The actors, all of whom have stage experience, bring out the wit and emotion in Shakespeare's lines. Only the drunk antics of Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Mel Smith), and his friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Richard E. Grant), who also is in love with Olivia, slow down the film. Starring Helena Bonham Carter, Nigel Hawthorne, Ben Kingsley and Imogen Stubbs. Directed and written by Trevor Nunn. Produced by Stephen Evans and David Parfitt. A Fine Line release. Comedy. Rated PG for mild thematic elements. Running time: 125 min. Screened at Telluride. Opens 10/25 NY/LA/Tor, expands 11/8 and 11/22
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