NTL Review: Twelfth Night

NTL Review: Twelfth Night
  • Title: Twelfth Night
  • Director: Simon Godwin
  • Broadcast: 6th April 2017

I went to see Twelfth Night, broadcast by National Theatre Live on Thursday night.

Initially, I wasn’t sure whether to write this review or not, – theatre isn’t my forte – but once I left the cinema, I had so many thoughts about the production and I wanted to share them.

Godwin’s Twelfth Night is a play which, for the first time that I’ve seen, truly foregrounds the Malvolio subplot of Twelfth Night – or should I say, the Malvolia subplot.

Tamsin Greig played Malvolia, a female representation of everybody’s favourite self-righteous and controlling steward. Although characters’ teasing comments about her Quaker-like behaviour were still included, Malvolia was less pious and more of a narcissistic control freak, which made for good humour for a contemporary audience. The infamous scene with Malvolia’s yellow stockings now included a musical number, and watching Greig flaunt about the stage to musical accompaniment, as well as the horror of the other characters, was wonderful comedy.

NTL 1 [Malvolia].jpg
Photo by Marc Brenner via Twelfth Night Production Images.

This gender swap is one of a few changes made to the original Shakespeare play and spotlights contemporary issues surrounding gender roles and sexuality; Antonio’s implicit homosexual love for Sebastian is given more prominence (the two share on onstage kiss), the Malvolia / Olivia narrative suggests Olivia’s potential bisexuality, and Feste is now a woman.

Doon Mackichan played Feste, although I thought her portrayal fairly standard. She was a comical enough ‘fool’, but I felt her humour was at its peak when in interaction with Sir Toby Belch, played by Tim McMullan, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by Daniel Rigby.

Every aspect of Rigby’s Aguecheek was absolutely hilarious; his body language, his line delivery, his costume was all spot-on. Aguecheek, for once, finally had his own style and personality, which was such a refreshing change from other productions of Twelfth Night, in which Aguecheek is simply ridiculed, rather than developed as a character.

NTL 2 [Aguecheek and Belch].jpg
Left to Right: Rigby as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and McMullan as Sir Toby Belch. Photo by Marc Brenner via Twelfth Night Production Images.

However, I think the relationship between cruel mocker and light-hearted comedy is incredibly important in this production of Twelfth Night.

Before the screening, Greig said in a VT that Twelfth Night is a witty play with a continuously melancholic undercurrent, and I wholeheartedly agree with this.

Viola and Sebastian are torn apart from one another. Olivia falls in love with someone she thinks she knows, who turns out to be somebody different. Antonio admits his feelings for “Sebastian”, who in reality was Cesario, and is left rejected and crushed. Sir Andrew is repeatedly humiliated by Toby Belch’s manipulative schemes as well as repeatedly heartbroken because he knows he stands no chance at winning Olivia.  Malvolia comes to terms with her own sexuality and openly expresses her feelings for Olivia in front of the entire household, only to be laughed at, imprisoned and treated like a madwoman. Thus, Greig’s final line: ‘I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you’, had such poignancy, that I felt more sympathetic for the plight of Malvolia then I ever had before.

Godwin’s Twelfth Night was thoroughly enjoyable, brilliantly comedic, but also cleverly melancholic and thought-provoking.

In short, when can I see it again?

– Judith

If you’d like to read about more this production of Twelfth Night, you can click this link to go the National Theatre Live website, or read this article by Susannah Clapp in The Guardian.

[Guest Post] Film Review: T2 Trainspotting

[Guest Post] Film Review: T2 Trainspotting

The following blog post was written by Patrick, from The Blog from Another World, as the second part of our second collaborative series and again, the focus seems to have been on trains! You can read our previous posts, talking Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting here, and about Paula Hawkin’s The Girl On The Train, here and here.


I love Danny Boyle and I love Trainspotting. When T2 was announced, I was worried that the film would be a cash grab, a lazy retread. Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon had already disappointed me with Jason Bourne (2016), which was an ill-thought through bore. However, after watching Trainspotting again for my article with ReadandReview2016, the stakes were raised very high. Impossibly high?

No. Not at all. Danny Boyle is the finest British filmmaker in modern cinema. There is no doubt in my mind about this. T2 is fantastic. Possibly even better than the first.

Boyle performs camera moves, positions and set pieces which are truly thrilling. He and his director of photography Anthony Dodd Mantle work with light and shadow and perspective to create meaning.

He’s a director who inspires me and this might just be the biggest risk of his career. He pulls it off and shows a maturity and an evolution of film-making style which makes us understand just how much experience and persistence matters. In preparation for watching T2 I watched A Life Less Ordinary, the Boyle directed film which came after Trainspotting and before The Beach. The film is a flawed and underwhelming work despite a career best performance by Cameron Diaz.

My reason for watching A Life Less Ordinary was to remind myself of Boyle on a bad day (but even his low point is better than many director’s best).   Slumdog Millionaire and Steve Jobs are big favourites of mine but T2 takes his best work and betters it.  It’s funny, sad, euphoric, tragic and utterly brilliant.

The story of T2 follows Renton, Sick Boy (now Simon), Begbie and Spud as they deal with the modern world twenty years after the events of the first film.

This film is a wonderful look at ageing, our modern world and the responsibilities of adulthood. The characters feel deeper and emotionally richer although some plot strands don’t go anywhere and seem added in for nostalgia’s sake (the re-appearance of heroin is pointless).

The four leads are superb. Ewan McGregor is the best he’s been since the original film, Robert Carlyle has aged Begbie in the most perfect way and Ewan Bremner is the heart of the film. Only Jonny Lee Miller isn’t stretched, with Sick Boy always being a secondary character.

This film has a rollicking pace and heaps of style. It captures the spirit of the original whilst moving in an entirely new direction, away from drugs and toward some kind of recognition. For the first time, Renton is forced to face the consequences of his actions and it’s an explosive moment. I personally loved this scene (not a spoiler) which captures the hard edged but joyful tone of the original and is a perfect storm of music, action, comedy and character.

This film is the best thing I’ve seen all year. It would take a lot to top this, and I can’t wait!

***

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please give it a ‘Like’. . Thanks to Patrick for writing this film review. You can find his other film reviews here:

From One Blogger To Another: Trainspotting Discussion With The Blog from Another World

From One Blogger To Another: Trainspotting Discussion With The Blog from Another World

With the release of Trainspotting 2, the long-awaited sequel to Danny Boyle’s 1996 black-comedy film, I sat down with Patrick, from The Blog from Another World to discuss Trainspotting.

I read Trainspotting, the book on which the film is based, by Irvine Welsh last year and wrote a review of it here. Overall, the gritty Scottish social realism failed to captivate me, but I appreciated Welsh’s inclusion of Scottish slang and dialect. When I watched the film however, I felt much more engaged.

I asked Patrick if enjoyed watching Trainspotting. He said: “I think that ‘enjoy’ is a difficult term to use to describe this film. I think it’s is a British classic and a milestone for British cinema.”

He continued, “Many films have tried to emulate the anarchic and twisted style of this film (such as Jon S. Baird’s Filth in 2013 – based on another novel by Irvine Welsh) but nobody has ever really come close. I love Danny Boyle’s direction and he makes the film palatable for the audience.”

However, what I found unpalatable in Trainspotting was how every social situation was punctuated by, hard drug use aside, cigarettes and alcohol. Whilst Trainspotting is by no means the only film to feature heavy drinking and smoking, it’s something in film that irritates me every time; excessive consumption makes me feel physically sick. I also found it ironic that the characters who frequently binged on these “socially acceptable” drugs were the same characters berating Renton and his friends for their heroin addictions.

Yet the constant smoking and drinking was certainly not the most shocking part of Trainspotting. To say the film includes crude scenes is an understatement.

 “It is a tough film to watch in places, so I understand why people can’t enjoy it for that reason.” Patrick said. However, he argued that these disgusting scenes are purposeful, and contrasted with moments of beauty and perfection.

“For example, when Renton dives down the worst toilet in Scotland, he lands in clear, serene water –  brilliant juxtaposition; I really admire the sheer invention of it.”

Speaking of whom, Ewan McGregor’s Renton was my favourite character in Trainspotting: the protagonist and heroin addict, who provides a voice of relative reason and is capable of blending into “normal” society.

Renton is the central narrator of the film, which made the plot easier to follow and helped me put names to faces. It was also a nice change from the book, which frequently changed between different narrative perspectives, making for tough reading. The fact Renton’s narration helped me understand the plot better made me appreciate the voice-overs – a technique I normally dislike within film –  and I thought they matched the style of Trainspotting well.

Patrick’s favourite character was Francis Begbie, a psychopath with violent tendencies, played by Robert Carlyle.

“Carlyle gives such a ferocious and frightening portrayal of a psychopath” he said.

“I can’t help but feel that Heath Ledger’s Joker and Andrew Scott’s Moriarty share DNA with Begbie’s pint-glass-throwing-chaos. True, Renton, Spud and Sick Boy are iconic characters, but Begbie is the character who sticks in my mind.

When Begbie starts a fight at the pub, it’s horrible. His callous violent bloodlust is frightening and his whim to have a fight is portrayed excellently.”

Patrick described to me another memorable Trainspotting scene, where Renton is forced by his parents to give up his heroin use, going through withdrawal symptoms, including vivid hallucinations. “It’s a horrific and surreal scene.” Patrick said, and I have to agree. McGregor’s acting here was fantastic; his screams really emphasised the suffering he was going through, and it was conflicting to watch.

Personally, I found the scene where Allison’s baby dies unsurprising but incredibly emotional. Allison, played by Susan Vidler, had an incredibly blasé attitude to drugs and promiscuous sex, resulting in a neglected baby surrounded by drugs and filth. When baby Dawn, inevitably died from poor health and neglect, it was such a raw and emotional scene – I could really sense Allison’s pain. However, what disturbed and angered me was that although Allison was in such pain, she still turned back to drugs – highlighting the vicious and destructive cycle of drug addiction.

It is scenes such as these that give Trainspotting a much darker tone, to juxtapose with its comedic elements.

Patrick said, “I think Trainspotting’s tone is very complex. It’s a film which is hyperactive but sombre, crass but frightening. The tone works because it’s about the ‘highs and lows’ of drug addiction; the tone wildly fluctuates to expertly capture and reflect what life is like for a heroin addict.”

“Many drugs films such as Requiem For A Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000) show only the horrific parts of drug addiction. Trainspotting is the best portrayal of addiction since The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945). It gives a balanced but unflinching view of addiction – it’s as euphoric as it is disgusting. It is better to understand what drugs give you, before you see what they take away.”

Trainspotting 2 was released today in the UK, and will be released in March in the USA.

***

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please give it a ‘Like’.

This is part of another collaborative series with The Blog from Another World, and again, the focus seems to have been on trains! You can read our previous posts, talking about Paula Hawkin’s The Girl On The Train, here and here.

This is also the first post in my new series, From One Blogger To Another, where I will interview a different blogger / writer each month. I wanted to write some longer pieces for my blog that are more journalistic in style, and hopefully this series will allow me to do that.

That’s all for now!

– Judith and Patrick

Film Review: The Hollow Crown V Shakespeare’s Globe

Film Review: The Hollow Crown V Shakespeare’s Globe

Image via BBC

English student + January = exam season!

One of my modules has been about Shakespeare’s History plays – hence why I wrote a little review of The Hollow Crown’s Richard II. I wanted to discuss The Hollow Crown’s adaptations – directed by Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock –  of the other plays I’m studying (Henry IV Part1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V) and how I think these compare with the Shakespeare’s Globe productions, directed by Dominic Dromgoole. Does this count as revision?

This is a slightly different “film review”. It’s not meant to be an essay, but simply an exploration of some opinions I’ve had circling round my head.

I’ve watched each version a few times to reinforce my knowledge of the plots. It was also handy because I could see how different directors chose to emphasise or minimise certain themes within each of the plays.

I liked the filming of the Shakespeare’s Globe productions; it was a truly theatrical experience, despite the fact I was watching it on a screen.

I also found the Shakespeare’s Globe productions more helpful in familiarising myself with Shakespeare’s original plays, because they kept most of the dialogue and, most importantly, highlighted how important an actor’s performance is in conveying a certain message or tone. I always knew performance affected meaning, but I’d never really “seen” it implemented before.

In contrast, The Hollow Crown created a cycle of films, not plays, meaning that the original plays were heavily edited in places, and this is completely understandable. In order to fit a 3 hour play into a 2 hour film, some scenes have to go.

For me though, the most striking difference between The Hollow Crown and Shakespeare’s Globe is the differing focuses on tone.

The Hollow Crown’s Henry IV Part 1 is sombre from the beginning – emphasised by a particularly dark colour palette choice, low lighting and a grimy, realistic medieval setting. Hal (Tom Hiddleston) is always aware of the serious duties of kingship that await him following the death of his father, King Henry IV (Jeremy Irons) and this  dwells on his mind. Of course, this is stressed to us within the dialogue Shakespeare’s Henry IV anyway, but I feel it’s especially clear in this adaptation, as the use of voice-overs allows the audience to literally get inside Hal’s head.

Hal is also clearly the central character, as opposed to the conventionally more favoured Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale). While he provides some comic relief, it’s undeniable that Falstaff and his motley crew are merely temporary distractions.

In comparison, Roger Allam’s Falstaff and Jamie Parker’s Hal in Shakespeare’s Globe are constantly exchanging witty remarks and have such a visible close friendship. I felt like I was watching a sit-com, with King Henry IV (Oliver Cotton) occasionally complaining from the side-lines about Hal’s behaviour. The tone is light-hearted – even the sombre scenes were given a comic twist – and I think the actors’ interaction with the audience was superb. Considering Shakespeare as a work of theatre, I found this production much more enjoyable because it is, after all, a theatre production, as opposed to a film.

However, whilst this light-hearted tone continued into Henry IV Part 2, I feel like this jarred with sudden scenes of seriousness – like King Henry’s death, Hal’s imminent ascension and Falstaff’s rejection. In these scenes, I thought the sombre tone of The Hollow Crown production conveyed the right emotions more effectively. For example, in The Hollow Crown, I understood and supported completely why Falstaff had to be cast out by the newly crowned King Henry V – he is a drunk, a thief and a criminal. In the Shakespeare’s Globe production, I felt so much sympathy, as if Falstaff had simply been written out of the sit-com for no apparent reason.

By Henry V, I’d struggle to pick a favourite adaptation. Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of King Henry V was amazing, as if Hiddleston himself had grown and developed into the role of Henry, just as Henry himself grew and developed into the role of a king. I also thought the way it was filmed was brilliant – there were lots of well done, gritty and gory battle scenes and in these scenes, I really appreciated The Hollow Crown’s choice to consistently maintain a dark and gloomy colour palette, costumes and settings.

In the Shakespeare’s Globe production, whilst the battle scenes were understandably less action-packed and dark, I enjoyed so many other aspects of this play. The comedic and light-hearted tone was carried through to this play too, which I really appreciated. After Falstaff’s death (I find it interesting how Shakespeare almost glosses over his death, despite him playing such a large part), Brendan O’Hea’s Captain Fluellen provided some much comic relief in the midst of the battles. In comparison, The Hollow Crown’s Owen Teale was definitely not designed to be funny, but more intimidating and gruff (but in a good way).

Overall, I found all 6 of these films really entertaining in different ways, and that’s absolutely fine. I’d recommend all 6 of them to you, if you have a spare few days with nothing to watch. Watching The Shakespeare Globe productions has made me more interested in theatre and other Shakespeare – I’ve since watched The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for sheer enjoyment.

Basically, if anybody wants to buy me The Hollow Crown or The Shakespeare Globe box-sets, I wouldn’t complain 😉

If you have any opinions on any of these plays or these adaptations, I’d love to hear them.

If you enjoyed reading this slightly different “film review” then please click ‘Like’ or share it around.

As it is exam season, there won’t be any new blog posts from me until February, so click ‘Follow’ to stay updated!

– Judith

Film Review: 12 Days of Blogmas Day #9: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Film Review: 12 Days of Blogmas Day #9: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

We’re creeping ever closer towards Christmas, but unfortunately this blog post isn’t Christmas-themed (sorry)!

As I’ve already mentioned before, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a classic children’s story and film people enjoy watching at Christmas. However, I already wrote a film review of it here back in March, so instead I thought I’d watch and review its sequel instead.

  • Title:The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
  • Director:Andrew Adamson
  • Released:2008

I remember seeing Prince Caspian in the cinema when it came out. It is about the four Pevensie children, who return to Narnia to help Prince Caspian (played by Ben Barnes) in his struggle with for the throne against his corrupt uncle, King Miraz (played by Sergio Castellitto).

I think Prince Caspian is a good sequel; I liked the fact the actors were older because it gives the characters more maturity and allows the director to explore darker themes, in a similar way to the Harry Potter films. Of course, The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets were good films, but by The Prisoner of Azkaban, there was more development, a higher sense of threat and you knew the characters could be tested more – which makes for a more interesting experience as an older viewer.

In addition, I found it easier to engage with all four main characters: Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley), Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes), Susan Pevensie (Anna Popplewell) and Peter Pevensie (William Moseley) because they’ve all grown up, whereas in the first film, I always preferred Peter and Susan, as opposed to the more childish Edmund and Lucy.

I particularly appreciated the growth of Edmund’s character; he steps up and makes careful decisions, learning from his previous mistakes in Narnia, highlighting the change from his weedy and foolish character from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

However, I’m not sure how I feel about the eponymous Prince Caspian – despite the film being titled after him, it still felt like Prince Caspian was still more about the Pevensies, and Prince Caspian was just a “tag along”. Although, I did like the suggestion that he and Susan liked each other, and the competitive rivalry created between Peter and Caspian – this added for comic relief in more serious moments of battles and politics. Eddie Izzard’s Reepicheep also added humour.

Of course, it wouldn’t be The Chronicles of Narnia without Aslan, and Liam Neeson reprises the role to bestow more wisdom on the children. I also love the theme music – you know something great is going to happen when the score begins to play.

When I talked about The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I discussed some Christian themes from the first film, so it seems only fitting to do that here too. What struck me was Lucy’s fervent faith in Aslan (symbolising a Christian’s belief in God), even when some of her siblings begin to doubt and follow their own ways. This is developed further by The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010), as it is just Edmund and Lucy who travel to Narnia because Susan and Peter have become “too old” for the world of Narnia. Maybe I’ll write a review of Dawn Treader one day…

I recommend both The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian as good family-friendly films, great for watching at Christmas time. This is a lengthier review than my first Narnia blog post, but I really enjoyed writing it.

If you liked reading this post, please click ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ my blog for more posts. Stay tuned for Blogmas Day 10 tomorrow!

– Judith

12 Days of Blogmas Day #3: Top 3 Christmas Films

12 Days of Blogmas Day #3: Top 3 Christmas Films

Happy Day 3 of Blogmas!

Today I’m going to write a blog post purely focusing on my favourite Christmas films. My choices aren’t necessarily films adapted from books, which makes a nice change from my What I Watched Wednesday (film review) series, but are the films I grew up with and loved

1. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1997)

For me, The Nightmare Before Christmas is both a Halloween and a Christmas film, and it is one of my favourite films of all time. It tells the story of Jack Skellington (Danny Elfman), the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town. He gets a little bored with Halloween and stumbles across Christmas town, falls in love with the winter holiday, then thoughtfully decides to relieve the duties of “Sandy Claws”, giving a traditional Christmas a spooky twist. I think the cinematography of The Nightmare Before Christmas is beautiful, and I love the songs, characters and all its little quirks. It’s a brilliant Halloween/Christmas crossover and if you haven’t seen it, you need to.

Also, there’s now a beautiful book version of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and I want it so much!

2. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Ron Howard, 2000)

This is another classic that I grew up watching, based on How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Dr. Seuss, 1956) starring Jim Carrey as The Grinch. I haven’t actually read the book (I’m sorry) but from what I gather, there had to be quite a bit of adaptation/adding in order to create a feature-length film, so if you’re a die-hard fan of the book, you might not enjoy it as much. The film is about Whoville, a town with an unrivalled obsession over Christmas, and how this antagonises The Grinch, an outsider shunned for his unusual appearance (and yet Whovians having ridiculously pointy noses is okay), so much that he decides to steal Christmas. Although it’s a silly film, I still like The Grinch because it’s funny, heart-warming and, as an older viewer, I can now #relate to some of The Grinch’s cynicism – it reminds me of Eeyore’s pessimistic outlook from the Winnie-the-Pooh series.

3. Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990)

Home Alone is a Christmas comedy film, starring Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister, a young boy who is accidentally left at home, while his family travel to Paris for the Christmas holidays (that’s the 90s for you), and then has to single-handedly defend his home from two attempted burglars, Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci). I think I have a love-hate relationship with Home Alone; the level of suspension of disbelief you must have in order to accept the plot of this film is quite high, and I got annoyed once they started making lots of – in my opinion, unnecessary – sequels. Nonetheless, this film is good fun (if you can overlook the depressing fact that a child was literally abandoned by his parents at Christmas) and I grew up with it, so I feel a sense of nostalgia.

Honourable Mentions:

These are some Christmas films I still enjoy, but haven’t seen as many times as I’d like.

  • Elf (Jon Favreau, 2003), starring Will Ferrell
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol (Jerry Juhl, 1992), based on Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol*

*I’m yet to find a live-action film version of A Christmas Carol that fully satisfies me (Scrooge never feels “quite right”), and so The Muppet Christmas Carol is the best adaptation of the story for me.

Those are my favourite Christmas films; what are yours?

– Judith

Film Review: Richard II

Film Review: Richard II
  • Title: Richard II
  • Director: Rupert Goold
  • Released: 2012

Richard II is the first in the BBC series, The Hollow Crown, a series of adaptations of William Shakespeare’s history plays. Richard II tells the story of the tyrannical rule of King Richard II (played by Ben Whishaw), his deposition to Henry Bolingbroke (played by Rory Kinnear) and death.

Richard II is the first of Shakespeare’s history plays I’ve ever experienced before, and I enjoyed this film adaptation (so much so that I watched it twice!). The film was faithful to the play, and the casting was really good.

My favourite scene is the controversial deposition scene, so  controversial it was censored in earlier versions of the play. The tension between Whishaw and Kinnear as they clutch the crown together is a powerful visual symbol of the tension between the two families.

In particular, I found Whishaw’s portrayal of King Richard very interesting.

First of all, he had a higher pitched voice than I was expecting, and the way he seemed to glide about in his robes from time to time gave him an almost feminine quality. Also, King Richard gets very emotional, very quickly. Numerous scenes were delivered by Whishaw through teary eyes and a choked voice, partly making me feel sympathetic, partly making me feel like Richard is a bit of a wimp.

If you’ve ever read Richard II, you’ll notice the many intertextual references to The Bible and the parallels drawn between Jesus and King Richard. Goold exaggerates these parallels to the extreme: pairing a (rather homoerotic) scene of Richard watching an artist paint the Crucifixion of Christ with the scene of Richard’s death, where he is delivered to The Tower on a donkey, wearing the same white robe, is given the same bloody wounds, and whose body is even left lying under a cross at the end of the film. Whilst I thought these parallels were clever, I also thought they were too obvious, making the point in an overly laborious way.

my-photo-richard-ii-2

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this production of Richard II and I look forward to watching more of The Hollow Crown series (I watched Henry IV Part 1 starring Tom Hiddleston just this afternoon)!

What is your favourite Shakespeare adaptation? Comment your answers below!

– Judith