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Koch Vision presents
Twelfth Night (1969)

"If this were play'd upon a stage now, I could condemn it as animprobable fiction."
- Fabian (Riggs O'Hara)

Review By: Ross Johnson   
Published: November 21, 2008

Stars: Sir Alec Guinness, Tommy Steele, Sir Ralph Richardson, Joan Plowright
Other Stars: Gary Raymond
Director: John Sichel

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:43m:00s
Release Date: May 13, 2008
UPC: 741952648796
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ AB-B- D

DVD Review

If you're not already familiar with the plot of Twelfth Night, it's a bit knotty, but has all the ingredients of a modern-day romantic comedy. Indeed, it invented those ingredients, and includes healthy doses of cross-dressing, faked death, and the original, and still most tangled, love triangle imaginable. Viola (Joan Plowright) finds herself cast ashore, shipwrecked, in the land of Illyria. There, she decides that she'll have better luck as a man, and takes a job with Duke Orsino (Gary Raymond), upon whom she promptly develops a crush. The Duke, however, is in love with local lady Olivia (Adrienne Corri). Olivia, however, wants no part of it, as she gets the hots first for Viola/Cesario, and then for her believed-dead twin brother (trying to imagine all of this with a seventeenth-century, all-male cast makes me dizzy). There's also a purely for comedy side-plot that complicates things even further, though, in the right hands, it's not as tough as it sounds. It's probably anachronistic to view the play this way, but to modern eyes it's certainly one of the gayest plays in Shakespeare's oeuvre. Viola spends half of the play in drag, while Olivia spends approximately as much time trying to make a love connection with her/him. It's complicated, but it's also rather cleverly circular. As Viola/Cesario is steward to Duke Orsino, Sir Alec Guinness is Olivia's steward, and serves in and equal but opposite role. While Viola is a woman trying to butch things up in order to keep her secret, I don't think that it's any coincidence that the puritanical Malvolio is hilariously effete, snarky, and preening (Sir Alec Guinness literally prances through his performance). The exploration of gender roles isn't one of Shakespeare's most sly, but subtlety wouldn't necessarily serve the play well. Twelfth Night is one of the lightest of Shakespeare's comedies, and one of the few times that there's no appreciable body count. It's all in good fun.

The pacing of this 1969 production (which came to television as an episode of ITV Saturday Night Theatrein the early going doesn't commend it. Things drag in the early scenes, and the mid-60s, made-for-British-television sets and camerawork are a bit jarring. It's not until the entire cast is in place that the production takes on its own life. Naturally, Sir Alec Guinness is wonderful. Once the effete Malvolio shows up, any traces of forced Shakespearean-ness fade away and the whole play takes on a brighter tone. With his snarking and prancing, the other members of the ensemble lighten up. The legendary Joan Plowright is more than up to task of playing Viola and her double life, while the lesser-known Adrienne Corri plays Olivia with just a bit of a smirk. Sir Ralph Richardson has a smaller role as drunken uncle Toby Belch, but plays it fully.

British teen heartthrob Tommy Steele's performance of the jester-like Feste places things squarely in the 1960s, though his jaunty performance makes his prominence easy to forgive. His performances of Shakespeare's musical interludes are appropriately seventeenth-century in their arrangements, even as they come off more like modern folk songs in the hands of Steele and his guitar. Every period does Shakespeare according to its own dictates, and it's fascinating to have recordings of some of the more important productions of the past century. This performance of the play isn't a dramatic reimagining of the work: it doesn't boast of brilliance or guts in the staging. Director John Sichel and Producer John Dexter still deserve plenty of credit for mounting a solid television production, and for not allowing flash to overtake the language and substance of the play. They assembled a fabulous ensemble of actors, some of the best of the past century, and then got out of their way. Most importantly: once the thing warms up, it's quite a bit of fun.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The image quality is hampered by relatively aged source material, but it's not terribly distracting.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: It's perfectly listenable, but the audio quality is about what you'd expect for a DVD mastered from a forty-year-old mono British video production. There's a bit of buzz (barely) audible during quiet moments, but otherwise these talented voices come through loud and clear.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Nary a one.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

While elements of the staging place this production squarely in 1969, the producer and director wisely stay out of the way of Shakespeare's most tangled comedy. With a legendary, once-in-a-lifetime cast including Joan Plowright and Sirs Ralph Richardson and Alec Guinness, this is a treasure to have available on DVD, even without any extras.

 


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