There are many things to love about this interpretation of Twelfth Night--Trevor Nunn's direction, the kick-ass British cast, the lush, evocative sets and scenery, and the innovative costume design. Nunn cleverly frames the film with the shipwreck that Shakespeare only alludes to (director John Madden does something similar in Shakespeare in Love, but more about that in a forthcoming post!) and sets the twins up as entertainers who often work in drag. Thus Viola comes ashore in Illyria dragging a chest containing her men's clothes and a handy fake mustache, a situation pretty much unaddressed in the original play. Three performances stand out for me: Toby Stephens lends the self-involved Orlando a warm humanity, and he is lovely to look at as well. Ben Kingsley makes a sharp-witted and observant Fool, who watches from the wings while insanity breaks out all around him. He also does a terrific job interpreting the songs from the play, specifically "Come Away, Come Away Death." ( You can see it here.) But Imogen Stubbs may just be the best Viola I've ever seen. Spunky, witty, and brave, her Viola is alternately heartbreaking and hilarious as she falls deeply in love with a guy who thinks she's a boy. Her scenes with Stephens have a wonderful chemistry, and it's easy to see why Helena Bonham-Carter (as Olivia) falls in love with her. The supporting cast is terrific, filled with lots of faces familiar from the BBC and other costume dramas. I particularly like Richard E. Grant as Sir Andrew, who gives the typically flat character fully human dimensions. Best of all, the actor who plays Sebastian, Steven Mackintosh, looks enough like Stubbs that you don't have to strain your disbelief too much when one is confused for the other. But hey, that's half the fun, isn't it?
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