2003: Tim Supple
This version (completely cinematic in approach) is perhaps the most extreme in pursuit of an altered setting, and it stretches the narrative plausibility of the play perhaps somewhat beyond the breaking point. Nevertheless, it contains a number of brilliant and arresting scenes, and is definitely worth watching, especially in comparison with some of the others.
Like Trevor Nunn, Supple finds it necessary to account for how Sebastian and Viola came to be traveling together at sea. Instead of being entertainers on a cruise line, however, here they are refugees. In preliminary scenes we see them being hustled hastily out of their house under gunfire, as the place is set afire behind them. This is interspliced with scenes of the immaculately-dressed Orsino, sipping champagne on an austere terrace overlooking the sea, and directing a soprano to sing a fragment of one of the Queen of the Night’s solos from The Magic Flute. Meanwhile our refugees are taking ship on a barely-seaworthy tramp steamer; when we next see them they are huddled in a dismal hold, and next in a little fishing trawler that has clearly rescued Viola from the wreck of that same ship. A third-world post-colonial sensibility permeates the whole production, and the transformation works surprisingly well.
Virtually every trick that one can bring to bear in cinematic style is used here: few shots are more than a few seconds long, and there are many split-second interleaved shots; many of the monologues are cut severely, and what remains is often rendered in voice-over. Many of the songs are represented as being played on the radio or on CD. A handful of the lines are delivered in Hindi, with subtitles presenting Shakespeare’s original text. The three rogues watch Malvolio’s monologue about becoming Olivia’s husband through a security camera. Whether all these effects and tricks really benefit the story or not is another question, but the result is worth seeing, as long as one realizes that this is definitely not a canonical version of the play.
Viola is played by Parminder Nagra, whom some may remember from Bend it Like Beckham. Her delivery is thoughtful and warm, and she imparts considerable credibility to the role. Against that, Chiwetel Ejiofor brings his drippingly cultivated diction and magnificent voice to the role of Orsino (some may remember him from the “Firefly” movie Serenity, where he plays the chilling character of The Operative). Michael Maloney (who has had a good deal of Shakespearian experience, with credits in Bogdanov’s Macbeth, Branagh’s Hamlet [Laertes] and Henry V [the Dauphin], and the 1995 Othello) renders one of the coldest and least sympathetic Malvolios one is likely to find, with the possible exception of Sir Alec Guinness’s; his initial attempts to smile are themselves an exercise in brilliant acting. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste launch into the offending “Hold Thy Peace” as a drunken hard-rocking jam with guitar, drums, and keyboard. The ensuing scenes with Maria are electrifying, and transform the whole remarkably. The final scenes are infused with a level of melancholy and regret — especially for the abuse of Malvolio — that elevates the entire production.
There are parts of this film that really don’t work at all, as far as I’m concerned. It’s rather harshly cut and rearranged, and even after (or perhaps because of) that cutting, some of the scenes with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew lack a very sensible rhythm. Still there’s a great deal to appreciate here. In particular, there’s a raw emotional quality to many scenes that appear in other productions to be played by the book, as it were. Olivia’s mourning, and her later profound regret at what has happened to Malvolio, lend her a heightened credibility across the board, and certainly make her more sympathetic and appealing from my perspective. Parminder Nagra’s Viola is also sufficiently good, in a quasi-naturalistic way, that if the film had nothing else to commend it, it would be worth seeing.
To the best of my knowledge, this is only available in a two-disc set with Bogdanov’s similarly avant-garde Macbeth. While neither one could be taken as anything like a definitive version of the play, both are worth seeing. Unfortunately, it appears to have gone out of production, so copies are only available through secondhand sources, and prices are likely to be high.
Antonio: Andrew Kazamia
Captain: Vic Tablian
Fabian: Vincenzo Nicoli
Feste: Zubin Varla
Malvolio: Michael Maloney
Maria: Maureen Beattie
Olivia’s servant: Faz Singhateh
Olivia: Claire Price
Orsino: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Police officer: Pete Shenton
Police officer: Tom Roden
Priest: Ewart James Walters
Sebastian: Ronny Jhutti
Sir Andrew Aguecheek: Richard Bremner
Sir Toby Belch: David Troughton
Soprano: Claire Wilde
Valentine: Burt Caesar
Viola: Parminder Nagra