Sadly summer is coming to a close. This is the last Friday in August, so I thought (although it’s long since midsummer) featuring A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be a nice way to close out the past few months.
I’m not going to get into the specific plot, because as with most Shakespeare, it’s complicated. Basically four mortals and a band of actors end up in the woods on a summer evening and have their loves lives unknowingly played with by fairies. If you want to know more specifics about it, read the play, or go here.
The two couples are played by Calista Flockhart (Helena), Anna Friel (Hermia), Christian Bale (Demetrius), and Dominic West (Lysander). The queen of Fairies, Titania, is played by Michelle Pfeiffer, and the king, Oberon, by Rupert Everett. I personally think Oberon should be a bit more masculine and intimidating despite the title “king of fairies”, but Mr. Everett certainly doesn’t achieve either of those things in this role, so to each his own. Playing his tricksy sidekick, Puck, is Stanley Tucci. And rounding out the cast supremely well as Bottom the ass, is Kevin Kline. Oh and if all those actors aren’t enough, the dad from Alf (Max Wright) is also in it.
All the performances are decent, some stand-out more than others, but honestly, I saw a production of this by Gorilla Shakespeare in Washington Square park in the 90s and those actors blew all these guys out of the water. Maybe seeing Shakespeare live is just always better. I don’t love this movie for the outstanding performances though, I love it because it’s effing gorgeous and I never get sick of the beautiful sets, costumes, lighting, and music. This is one of those movies I put on just for background noise, because it’s makes me happy and it’s beautiful.
This adaptation is set in Edwardian Tuscany, a bit strange, but it works in its own way. Some die-hard Shakespeare devotees were surely annoyed by it, but it actually suits the story pretty well. The plot involves escaping into the woods, outside the rules of the city, where there are no laws and no propriety, just nature and mischief. The Edwardian and Victorian eras were incredibly repressed and obsessed with decency and modesty, so juxtaposing the refined life of the characters with the wild world of the fairies works nicely. Why Tuscany? I guess because it’s pretty. The original play is set in Athens, Greece.
This adaptation also works because the play itself was incredibly popular during this era. The play was acted out as a major spectacle and the music, written by Mendelssohn, became wildly popular as well. In fact The Wedding March, used in most western weddings is from Mendelssohn’s overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It makes sense, because Shakespeare wrote this play as a wedding gift for a close friend of Queen Elizabeth I, and it was during the turn of the century that much of what we consider western wedding traditions came into practice, like the white dress.
I know this movie only kinda sorta passes the Bechdel test—but whatever. The test has flaws, and when a movie is completely about relationships and all anyone talks about is love, the whole test falls apart. There are many movies that should pass the test in spirit, but don’t technically pass it. The real purpose for the test is to get us thinking, not to limit the movies we watch and enjoy. It’s god-damn Shakespeare for cripes-sakes, even if the parts were originally played by men impersonating women, they still stand up as good female characters, far better spoken and developed then some of the cardboard cutouts we see in romantic comedies today.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, like most of Shakespeare’s plays, is overflowing with beautiful quotations, but I’ll just choose one and leave you with that. May you all have weekends (and lives) filled with fairy magic!
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