Koch Vision // 1969 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // May 12th, 2008
"I'll serve this Duke. Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him; it may be worth thy pains." -- Viola
Written around 1601, Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare's most delightful comedies. Sure, it demands suspension of disbelief and acceptance of all-too-obvious shenanigans, though once one gets wrapped up in the plot of mistaken identity and pompous buffoonery it should charm your socks off. Plus, while the play contains similar elements of other Bard comedies like A Midsummer Night's Dream and Much Ado About Nothing (read: "ass" jokes), it still stands on its own with plenty of delicious word play.
Like all of Shakespeare's plays, Twelfth Night has had its fair share of cinematic adaptations. Probably the most well known is a 1996 version with Helena Bonham Carter, though teenage students would no doubt prefer She's The Man or, as I like to call it, the stripped-down, Barney-style version. That being said, this 1969 version by the BBC is really only recommended for a) Shakespeare buffs or b) high school teachers who still have respect for the source material. Both camps should be more than pleased.
Twelfth Night is set in the fictional kingdom of Illyria, where an aristocratic noblewoman named Viola (Joan Plowright, The Spiderwick Chronicles) survives a shipwreck and washes ashore. She has no money, her sailor-brother has drowned. She has no choice but to find get a job and hopes to be a servant to Countess Olivia (Adrienne Corri, A Clockwork Orange). Olivia is notorious for ignoring foreigners, so Viola must work for a lazy Duke named Orsino (Gary Raymond, The Rat Patrol)...disguised as a man!
Here's where the romantic entanglements and misunderstandings come in. Now calling herself "Cesario," Viola falls in love with Orsino, though he is already in love with Olivia, who is currently in mourning of her late brother (o, the irony of t'all). What's left of her family is Sir Toby Belch (Sir Ralph Richardson, Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes), a rambunctiously drunken uncle who delights in making an ass of himself and Olivia. Along with another admirer, the cheeky Sir Andrew Aguecheek (John Moffatt, Murder On The Orient Express) and Olivia's butler, the stiff Malvolio (Sir Alec Guinness, Star Wars), the plot descends into endless mischief and mayhem...but who will end up with whom?
I must confess that when I received this product for review, I'd never read the play or seen it on stage, for that matter. In preparation, I did read the play and was struck at how faithful this version was. Occasional scenes (particularly in the first two acts) were shifted around a bit, though almost all of the prose was included. Watching this version of Twelfth Night makes you feel like you are actually seeing it on the stage, complete with background paintings and sets of limited space. Not everyone will be interested in watching a photographed stage play, but two-time, Tony-award winning producer John Dexter does an excellent job...and his brilliant cast makes you forget this was shot on video.
The most recognizable actor in the cast is, without a doubt, Sir Alec Guinness. Those familiar with Twelfth Night should know about his character's quick change from a priggish servant to gleeful moron (complete with yellow stockings), and Guinness, showcasing decades of stage experience, pulls it off with effortless ease. The ladies, Joan Plowright and Adrienne Corri, explode with playful wit in many of their scenes together, and Sir Ralph Richardson is a master of bumbling idiocracy. Also doing remarkably well is John Moffatt, whose role requires him to sing a number of songs.
Although Twelfth Night shows it age, Koch Vision has done a fine job bringing this 40-year-old production to DVD. Grain and specks are noticeably absent most of the time, remaining faithful to its original ITV presentation. The DD 2.0 Stereo track is free of distortion and pops. I don't mind the absence of bonus features; why not include English subtitles, though?
Verdict: Not Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* SparkNotes No Fear Shakespeare: Twelfth Night
* Wikipedia: Twelfth Night