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Shakespeares Twelfth Night is a play overflowing with ambiguity in terms of tone, character portrayal, dialogue and meaning which gives directors of both screen and stage an immense amount of flexibility which over the years has given us many distinct visions of the same play. Nunn’s vision seems to be a modern take on a ‘timeless celebration of love’  whereas others like Kenneth Branagh’s 1987 version used Elizabethan settings and historical ideas and themes like courtly love and Puritanism to show Twelfth Night’s simple reality as a problem play which Nunn attempts to whitewash. Nunn’s vision of Twelfth Night, however, is comparable to a Jane Austen romance as what his character’s experience is real love, whereas in Branagh’s version like others show ‘Orsino’s love for Olivia is possessive…and self-indulgent; Toby’s for Maria is a matter of casual, drunk conveniency ‘.Love therefore becomes a word used to hide the reality of the situation but Nunn’s skilful concessions in cutting dialogue and changing and adding scenes works not just to attract a modern audience but also present this dominant theme of uncontrollable and love. However, in stylizing the from what can be read as a satire of Elizabethan ideas of love to a 20th Century romance does not betray Shakespeare, but whether it successfully re-invents the play, showing it from a new perspective is debatable. My analysis will centre on this theme of love and will focus primarily on the portrayal of character’s like Orsino and Toby by director and actor and the changes made to accommodate these portrayals, the plays use of aesthetics and music and the dealing with the problematic ending.
In terms of character portrayals Toby Stephens’ Orsino is a dramatic swift in comparison to Braugner’s version, where Orsino is a melancholy obsessive who is more in love with the idea of love than being in love itself to a model of classic romantic lead who seems flawless. If we look at Orsino’s first scene Curio’s line ‘Will you go hunt, my lord?’  is removed, perhaps because it undermines Orsino’s reliability and strong character as Curio and other servants distaste could show the audience Orsino’s hyperbolic feeling which he seems to put on for attention. Nunn ignores the idea of courtly love of overemphasising love and the camera’s close ups on Orsino’s (here and in other scenes) sombre and painful facial expressions through his dialogue in a strictly serious tone and his slow, passionate manner characterise Orsino not as a figure of ridicule but as a realistic romantic hurting through rejection. Also considering Cesario is incorporated into this scene shows her feelings for Orsino gradually growing in this and later scenes, unlike within the play where she tells us through aside of her love for him. Again close ups on Cesario’s face show her slow captivation with Orsino’s words, especially when he speaks directly to her.
Orsino’s dialogue is sometimes cut and moved into separate scenes to stylise his character. Orsino and Cesario’s dialogue in II.4.13-40 is spaced between scenes of Feste’s song O Mistress Mine which Nunn uses to ignore the contradictions in his speak, as at first Orsino’s talks of how men’s passions are but ‘giddy and unfirm’  but then in lines 91-100 he talks of his passion for Olivia as ‘hungry as the sea’  . This could show Orsino’s hypocritical, fickle and changing nature like in Branagh’s version but by separating the two parts of this scene into a later chronological position makes the audience forget this previous remark by changing the situation and the mood. It also allows for the build up of sexual tensions between Orsino and Cesario as going back to the earlier in the film where Orsino reveals the nature of men’s fancies, the close settings and the close camera shot in which Cesario and Orsino are only inches away from each other and when Orsino delivers these lines it is like he is telling Cesario a secret. The close up shot of both character’s faces being inches away also drags the audience into this secret and tension and sympathy for Cesario build as clearly she has feelings for Orsino which she is hiding and are revealed when II.4.42-124 is shown.
This sexual tension adds another dimension to Orsino’s character as during Feste’s song Come Away Death in II.4.50-55 during the storm in the barn, he becomes and Cesario are in each others grasp and almost kiss, unlike Branagh’s version where Orsino shows no interest in Cesario. Nunn however uses this scene to build up a romantic, yet homoerotic tension between the characters as it seems Orsino’s asking of Cesario to see Olivia again is a reaction used to hide his feelings for Cesario and especially as Orsino in the follow scene Orsino says nothing and seems deep in contemplation. Also in V.1 when Olivia announces Cesario as her husband Orsino’s words (160-165) to Cesario of his betrayal; ‘oh thou dissembling cub’  perhaps suggests he is more angry about the betrayal of his love which he has for Cesario than losing Olivia to him. The close up on both of Cesario and Orsino’s faces also hints that they might kiss and again hints at where Orsino’s love may lie, with Olivia or with Cesario who he still thinks is a boy. Overall Nunn’s shaping of Orsino of as a romantic hero is the films greatest accomplishment and Toby Stephen’s performance was more than convincing when Orsino could have become a stereotypical like many of Mr Darcy-type character, the build up of these many complex layers and feelings especially towards the end make Nunn’s piece a true yet original romance. However, the same cannot be said for other character’s.
Nunn portrayal of the love between Sir Toby and Maria is as one of forbidden love and unlike that between Cesario, Olivia and Orsino, he seems to used occasionally for comic effect, i.e. when they almost awkwardly kiss after II.4. Mel Smith’s portrayal of Sir Toby is one very much based on a drunk, but what appears to be a good hearted and honest drunk when compared to Sir Toby Branagh’ piece is a manipulative brute and Imelda Staunton’s Maria unlike other versions appears a kind hearted as opposed to a mamamanipulatornote that in II.3.56-68 her sexual idininnuendo’s which tease sir Andrew are removed. The choice also to cast an older, maturer actress also moves away from the love between the two not being one of convenience or of for the purpose of advancement in social hierarchy in Maria’s case and as opposed to the love between the younger leads is aimed at a older audience showing love calls at all ages.
Like other versions the relationship between Sir Toby and Maria has often included Feste as a key figure in its outcome but whereas in Branagh’s version he uses the hints of a second love triangle with Feste and Toby competing for Maria’s affections is shown. Nunn decision to ignore second love triangle appears a good decision as to show both male character’s going against each other would not fit in with the films feel good tone and ending, but also Ben Kingsley’s dynamic version of Feste as an omnipresent and omniscient force, almost like a silent cupid (through his playing of songs). In relation to Feste, his relationship with Maria is key in this separate pursuit of love, they have a almost brother and sistership in his first appear in I.5.23-24 he tells Maria ‘if Sir Toby would leave drinking thou wert as witty as a piece of Eve’s flesh as any in Illyria’ hints at her feelings for Toby and in Feste’s O Mistress Mine song in II.3.35-40, which appears a wasted opportunity perhapshaperhapshis idea of forbidden/taboo love as although Maria also sings which reflect her feelings for Toby who she stares at, but the camera’s focus on a blank faced Toby who appears mindlessly drunk suggests his lack of interest and seems inconsistent compared to other, later scenes where the two appear to have strong feelings for each other could instead have been a moment of great audience sympathy, but the barriers which Nunn fails to keep up seems also pointless as it suggests there is nothing keeping them from being apart. This one lapse of focus, however,does not repeat and does not damper the overall experience of the film.
The choose of setting within the early 20th Century and on the idelick Cornish coast reflects the romantic imagery and ideas which Nunn focuses on forward and perhaps even perhaps reflecting back at the other literary romances, i.e. the works of Maurier, but the settings perhaps come also work symbolically like in other romances, i.e. like in Wuthering Heights the moors could represent Heathcliff’s rough nature, the the sea and weather seem symbolic of Orsino’s moods changing moods and love.
Music is fundamental elementt which Nunn rightly uses in the repetition of Feste’s songs O Mistress Mine and Come Away Death in the background during different scenes brings meaning to Orsino’s immortal line ‘if music be the food of love play on’  by adding tension and build up of emotions between character’s.
Overall, given Nunn’s directional history of Shakespeare plays and musicals, it soundly contributes to a film that although is striped primarily to the simplicity of a love story it soundly ‘nails both the joy and the darkness of Shakespeare’s play’  through more than Malvolio’s torment but through the torment and tribulations of love. However, my main criticism rests on the film’s happy ending the final shots of Malvolio and Sir Andrew leaving with the realisation of their flaws and Antonio who is allowed to leave freely seems like a desperate plough to end the film by showing everyone gains something but it feels rushed. Sir Andrew cannot resolve and change his intellect, Malvolio likewise leaves but has he really learnt his lesson? Antonio although he is free, we see in his last glance at Sebastian, the look of longing on his face reflects the homoerotic feelings he had towards Sebastian, which now he knows can never be returned and thus is another victim of love. In the pursuit to create a perfect romantic yet comic film, Nunn it seems could not get away from the play’s problematic ending but tries to cover it up the best way he can.
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