Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 2014. Londinium Films, Ealing Studios Entertainment, Ealing Studios. Play by William Shakespeare. Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto. Produced by Lynn Hendee, Ben Latham-Jones. Music by Elliot Goldenthal. Production Design by Es Devlin. Costume Design by Constance Hoffman. Film Editing by Barbara Tulliver. Toronto International Film Festival 2014.
Not a film adaptation but a filmed performance of Julie Taymor’s production for Theatre For A New Audience, arranged especially for cinematic adaptation. Taymor recorded a number of performances, including one with an invited audience that situated the camera on stage and, as a result, keeps the performance situation intact but allows it to feel more like a film. Taymor has long been celebrated for her imaginative renderings of well known productions, here taking the Bard’s lyrical fantasy and applying her visceral style that rides the line between enchanted and haunting: large swaths of fabrics envelope the stage while “elementals” covered in cracked white paint replace the fairies that surround the awe-inspiring Oberon and Titania, monarchs of the enchanted forest into which mortal lovers enter and are bewitched. Kathryn Hunter makes a physically curious and unpredictable Puck, whose position as both trickster and observer contributes more problems than solutions, while the tradesmen rehearsing their play for the upcoming wedding of the Duke of Athens to the Queen of the Amazons bring comic relief in their climactic performance. Taymor’s visual conceits are familiar to anyone who ever saw her groundbreaking stage adaptation of The Lion King or any of her dazzling films, but that does not make this umpteenth version of Shakespeare’s most popular comedy less of a treat to sit through. You can see that she has made a bold choice about just about every line and stage direction in the entire play, emphasizing small moments by attaching gestures to words so that they are not just poetry but take up physical space on stage. She also brings enough sinister feeling to a natural world that is both beautiful and deadly without ruining the balance of darkness and light that is already there. Cast members are all solid, with outstanding turns by Zach Appelman as Demetrius, Okwui Okpokwasili as Hippolyta and Lilly Englert as a charming Hermia, while Tina Benko‘s gorgeously made up and illuminated Titania is the most glorious appearance in the entire show.