Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Fiennes’

This 2004 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play (originally written as a comedy, although it feels far more like a drama) stars Al Pacino as Shylock (and he is easily the best thing in this film), Jeremy Irons as Antonio, Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio and Lynne Collins as Portia.

The story, in essence, centres on a deal made between Antonio (the merchant of Venice referred to in the title), and Shylock, a Jewish money-lender.  At the time that the story was set, there was much bad feeling between Christians and Jews, and indeed Jews in Venice were required to live in a ghetto of sorts, and to wear red caps in public, to identify as Jewish.  Antonio is approached by his friend Bassanio, who has squandered all of his money on his lavish lifestyle, and wants to borrow money off Antonio in order that he can be a suitor to Portia, a rich heiress – if Bassanio marries Portia, all of her riches will be his.  Antonio cannot lend him the money, but agrees to act as guarantor if Bassanio can borrow the money elsewhere.  Bassanio does so – from Shylock, who attaches a condition to his lending, that if the money is not repaid, Antonio will have to literally forfeit a pound of his flesh to Shylock.

I have watched and enjoyed many Shakespeare film adaptations, and approached this one with high hopes – only, sadly, to have them dashed.  Unfortunately, I found this adaptation to be boring and laborious.  Joseph Fiennes and Lynda Collins were not convincing as Bassanio and Portia; David Harewood played a small part in the film, in which he was great, but sadly he is in it only briefly.  Kris Marshall and Mackenzie Crook did decent enough jobs as Bassanio’s friend Graziano, and Launcelot Gobbo (a young man who works for Shylock), but they were not enough to save this film.

I am however, going to make mention of Al Pacino’s performance, which was simply outstanding.  If the rest of the cast (Jeremy Irons aside – he did a great job) had been as good as Pacino, this film would have been fantastic and one I would doubtless have watched over and over.  Pacino stole every single scene he was in, and engendered real sympathy in me for his character at the end.  Although Shylock is often portrayed and interpreted as a villain, I felt that he was a victim of the times and culture that he lived in, and the craftiness of others.  (Much as I enjoy Shakespeare, I don’t believe that either Bassanio or Portia come acres as very decent or likeable characters in the play).

It looks luscious and colourful, but for me, this film was a case of style of over content.  It may be worth seeing for the performance of Al Pacino, but other than that, this is one I won’t be watching again.

Year of release: 2004

Director: Michael Radford

Producers: Michael Hammer, Peter James, Robert Jones, Alex Marshall, James Simpson, Manfred Wilde, Gary Hamilton, Andrea Iervolino, Pete Maggi, Julia Verdin, Andreas Bajohra, Bob Bellion, Cary Brokaw, Michael Cowan, Jimmy de Brabant, Edwige Fenech, Nigel Goldsack, Luciano Martino, Barry Navidi, Jason Piette, Bob Portal, Jean-Claude Schlim, Clive Waldron, Roberto Almagia, Irene Masiello

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Michael Radford

Main cast: Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynda Collins, Kris Marshall, Zuleikha Robinson, Charlie Cox, Heather Goldenhersh, Mackenzie Crook

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This film from 1998 won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench). It’s a completely fictionalised account of Shakespeare’s (Joseph Fiennes) problem with writer’s block, while he was writing Romeo and Juliet, and how he overcomes such difficulties (but creates more problems for himself) when he falls in love with Viola De Lessups (Paltrow), who is betrothed to the evil Lord Wessex (Colin Firth).

I expected to really love this film – after all, it’s historical fiction, based on William Shakespeare and has an undeniably excellent cast – but I think I went in with my expections set a little too high, as I enjoyed it, but not as much as I had hoped. I cannot criticise any of the cast – Fiennes is great as Shakespeare, Paltrow is great as Viola, and Judi Dench is simply terrific as Queen Elizabeth I. Firth is his usual excellent self, camping it up as the stupid and obsequieous Wessex. Martin Clues, Geoffrey Rush and Simon Callow also lend great support (Rush was nominated for an Oscar), and Ben Affleck also popped up unexpectedly. It might seem as though he was out of place in a British historical comedy, but he was clearly happy to send himself up, and fitted right in.

It does have plenty of laughs, and also a couple of genuinely touching moments, and it is certainly a film I am glad I watched. However, I’m not sure that it’s one I would bother watching again; I think I prefer to see adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, rather than a film based on him writing them. All in all though, it’s a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours, and there is certainly no weak link in the cast. I would rate it at 7.5/10, as I think it would have been more enjoyable if it had been perhaps 30 minutes shorter.

Year of release: 1998

Director: John Madden

Producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Julie Goldstein, Linda Bruce, Mark Cooper, Donna Gigliotti, Marc Norman, David Parfitt, Edward Zwick

Writers: Tom Stoppard, Marc Norman

Main cast: Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Judi Dench, Martin Clunes, Ben Affleck, Tom Wilkinson

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This film tells the story of the early days of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (although, it should be noted that there are a number of historical inaccuracies). Starting from when Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) is imprisoned by her older sister Mary, Queen of England, the film depicts Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne upon Mary’s death.  When she is made Queen, Elizabeth’s reign is shaky with a lot of opposition to her Protestant religion, and there are traitors in her midst. Her advisor William Cecil urges her to marry and have a child, in order to secure her position as Queen, and there are suitors from the French and Spanish aristocracies (indeed, the King of Spain offers his hand to Elizabeth).  However, she continues an affair with her childhood sweetheart Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), which she later breaks off when she discovers that he is already married (in the true version of events, Elizabeth was well aware that Robert was married, and she actually attended his wedding; neither did he betray her in real life, as he did in the movie by committing treason against her.  He remained a loyal servant throughout his life).  Eventually she turns down all offers of marriage and declares herself married only to England.  She is shown cutting off all her hair and adopting the persona of the Virgin Queen (in real life, she did not cut her hair, although she did wear a wig later in life, due to her hair thinning after a bout of smallpox).

Despite the historical inaccuracies – many of which are clearly in place because they make the film more watchable and dramatic than the true version of events – this is a very compelling film and I found that I did not want to stop watching at all.

Cate Blanchett is of course excellent as Queen Elizabeth, initially showing the sense of fun which the queen had as a young girl.  However, disappointments and betrayals by those she trusts cause her to lose her somewhat carefree nature and harden her heart.  This is all shown very well, as is Elizabeth’s determination and inner strength, at a time when women were not considered to be worthy of having an opinion.  Vincent Cassel is also worthy of note as Henry III of France, one of the potential suitors.  He provides some moments of comic relief throughout the film, as he is depicted as fun loving, flamboyant and rather outrageous.  Joseph Fiennes is fine as Robert Dudley, but the best supporting actor is surely Christopher Eccleston, as the queen’s traitorous cousin, the Duke of Norfolk, who considers Elizabeth to be a heretic.  There were some unusual casting choices however; I was most surprised to see Eric Cantona playing a French Ambassador.  Maybe because he is such a well known face, I found him hard to believe in in this role.  I also believe that Kathy Burke (who is a superb actress) was miscast as Queen Mary.  Again however, this may be because people are so used to seeing her in completely different roles.

Overall however, this was a fascinating and engrossing film, and I look forward to watching the sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Years, very soon.

Year of release: 1998

Director: Shekhar Kapur

Writer: Michael Hirst

Main cast: Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston

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