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This review is for the 1996 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. I had been meaning to watch this for ages, and after seeing the stage adaptation at the RSC, it seemed like the perfect time to finally catch the film.

In this version, Toby Stephens plays Duke Orsino, whose love for Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter) is unrequited. Imogen Stubbs plays Viola/Cesario, and Steven Mackintosh plays her brother Sebastian. Toby Belch is played by Mel Smith, Richard E Grant is the hapless Andrew Aguecheek, and Imelda Staunton plays Maria.

Far more is made of Viola/Cesario’s attraction to Orsino than was made in the play, and also, we do see the eventual marriage of Belch and Maria, which was not in the stage version. It is a most enjoyable film, with plenty of drama and comedy. Each cast member seemed just right for their role – stand outs for me were Toby Stephens – who is exactly the right kind of handsome and noble for this part – Helena Bonham Carter (of course), and Mel Smith, who surprised me with his acting skills. Previously I had only seen him in out and out comedies, but here he was perfect as Toby Belch. Imogen Stubbs also somehow managed to look like a gorgeous woman and still be convincing (enough for the purpose of the film) as a young man. I should also mention Ben Kingsley – an always-reliable actor – who played Feste, with an almost sinister undertone, and Nigel Hawthorne, who played the pompous Malvalio.

I don’t think it afforded me as many laughs as the stage adaptation, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this film, and would recommend it to any fans of Shakespeare, or indeed any fans of comedy in general.

Year of release: 1996

Director: Trevor Nunn

Producers: Christopher Ball, Mark Cooper, Simon Curtis, Stephen Evans, David Garrett, Bob Hayward, Ileen Maisel, David Parfitt, Greg Smith, William Tyrer, Ruth Vitale, Patrick Wachsberger, Jonathan Weisgal

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Trevor Nunn

Main cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Toby Stephens, Mel Smith, Richard E. Grant, Imelda Staunton, Nigel Hawthorne, Imogen Stubbs, Steven Mackintosh, Ben Kingsley

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Click here for my review of the 2012 stage adaptation, at RSC, Stratford
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Warning: If you are thinking of watching this film, DON’T watch the video clip above, as it pretty much tells the whole story!  I did try to find a clip of just the trailer, but incredibly was unable to do so.

This story is based on the novel of the same name, by Steve Szilagyi.  The book in turn was inspired by the real life events surrounding the Cottingley Fairy pictures.  However, the events shown here are fictional, and names and circumstances have been changed.

Toby Stephens is excellent as Charles Castle, a photographer who is devastated and loses the will to live after his wife dies on their honeymoon in 1912.  After fighting in Word War 1, he sets up a photography business, and is initially cynical when shown photographs which appear to depict two young sisters playing with fairies.  However, as he digs a little deeper into the mystery, he starts to question his initial disbelief and wonder if indeed fairies do exist.  His investigations take him to the village where the girls live, where he discovers that eating a specific flower slows down time and allows him to see the fairies for himself.  In exploring the phenomena further, Charles finds himself becoming obsessed with finding out the truth…

(If all this sounds slightly ludicrous, it’s worth remembering that many people fully believed that the Cottingley Fairy pictures were genuine, including none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who is also a minor character in this film.)

I loved this film…I confess I only initially watched it because I am a fan of Toby Stephens, but I soon found myself wrapped up in this lovely story.  It really doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in fairies (I don’t), because the story is beautiful enough to carry you away, at least for its duration.

The supporting cast were all excellent – Phil Davis as Charles’ friend Roy, Emily Woof as Linda – the nanny to the two girls, and especially Ben Kingsley who was magnificent in a very disturbing turn as an intolerant Reverend and the father of the two girls.  The Reverend despises Charles and his presence in the village, and his anger is pivotal to the plot.

Stephens depiction of a grieving man who feels dead inside, is touching and sad, and beautifully realised.

The film works is a lovely looking period drama, and makes lovely use of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, II. Allegretto, as a recurring piece of music throughout the film.  The excellent cast raise this from a good to a great film.  Unfortunately the film is nigh on impossible to find on DVD, and only pops up on television very rarely, meaning that it is largely unknown.  However, if you ever get the chance to see this magical poetic story, I would highly recommend it.

Year of release: 1997

Director: Nick Willing

Writers: Steve Szilagyi (book), Chris Harrald, Nick Willing

Main cast: Toby Stephens, Ben Kingsley, Emily Woof, Phil Davies

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