Worth it for the cast: Twelfth Night (Trevor Nunn, 1996)


When I had to study Twelfth Night in high school, I quite enjoyed Trevor Nunn’s adaptation. Rewatching it now, however, I’m disappointed by its choppiness, particularly some scenes after Sebastian reappears, and everything before the opening titles. There’s probably not much Nunn could do about that if he was trying to show the major plot points while keeping the film to an accessible length. I do think, though, that it could have been better if they’d tried to incorporate the material in the first nine minutes’ disparate scenes, which involve a fair bit of exposition, into the rest of the film. It could be inferred through dialogue, or maybe in a few flashback glimpses. In fact, the shot of Cesario/Viola moving the fencing instructor’s hand off her chest tells you right away that this is a woman disguised as a man. It might be interesting to have a hint of mystery about who Viola is and where she’s come from.

Still, the uniformly strong cast makes this adaptation delightful. Olivia and Cesario’s first scene is the best in the film, with amazing interplay between Helena Bonham Cater and Imogen Stubbs. And although the yellow stockings scene isn’t as funny it’s supposed to be (I just don’t think I have it in me to find Shakespeare truly funny), it’s great to watch Nigel Hawthorne showing Malvolio’s dignity unravel when he finds the letter.

I like how this story remains cheerful and yet is bent on reminding the audience about the impermanence of happiness and youth. Aside from our leads, a lot of people are hard done by at the end. Richard E. Grant makes Sir Andrew so dully sweet that it’s impossible not to feel badly for him. And although Antonio probably has a life to get back to, the film makes it look as though he gets consistently shabby treatment from the twins.

The aforementioned choppiness is perhaps unavoidable when compressing the play, but stops it from being an excellent adaptation. However, the location filming makes great use of the castle, cliffs, and the topiary gardens. This, along with some evocative sets, creates a cohesive setting. The costumes are well chosen, with some beautiful dresses and nice character touches, and you’re in good hands with this cast. Not essential, but fun regardless.


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