A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Kevin Kline as Nick Bottom
- Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania
- Rupert Everett as Oberon
- Calista Flockhart as Helena
- Anna Friel as Hermia
- Dominic West as Lysander
- Christian Bale as Demetrius
- Stanley Tucci as Puck
- David Strathairn as Theseus
- Sophie Marceau as Hippolyta
- Bernard Hill as Egeus
- Sam Rockwell as Francis Flute
A well cast and amusing adaptation of the classic Shakespeare comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream gets points for direction, writing and acting. Yes it isn’t the best Shakespeare adaptation there is and there are a few flaws, but by and large it’s a success of love’s complications, romantic entanglements and mischievous magic.
The setting is Italy near the beginning of the twentieth century( in the play the setting is Greece). The Duke Theseus is preparing for his upcoming marriage to Hippolyta. He is a respected man and is asked near the beginning to help Egeus with his problem. The problem in question is his daughter Hermia, who he has betrothed to Demetrius. Hermia is actually enamored with Lysander, but their love is forbidden. With Hermia being forced to marry Demetrius, the young lady and her lover Lysander secretly plan to elope. Meanwhile, Hermia’s friend Helena pines for the moody Demetrius, but to no avail as he loves Hermia. The downtrodden Helena seizes the opportunity to make an impression on Demetrius by informing him of Hermia and Lysander’s plans to run away one night through the nearby forest. Demetrius follows the two star-crossed lovers deep into the forest, with the desperate Helena behind him. Yet what none of the four realise is that the forest is inhabited by fairies, and most importantly the fairy King Oberon and his wife Queen Titania. The couple is going through trouble and their differences begin to hold sway on the fates of the four young lovers in the forest. The scheming Oberon, to get back at Titania, devises an amusing plan and enlists the help of loyal but mischief-loving sprite Puck to help. By obtaining a magical flower and applying the nectar of it to the eyelids of Titania, when she awakens she will fall in love with the first person she sees. Into this game unintentionally comes the talkative actor Nick Bottom and his company, who are rehearsing a play to perform at the upcoming wedding. Using the flower on Titania and then turning the unsuspecting Bottom into a donkey, a funny beginning of events flourishes as Titania becomes smitten with the transformed Bottom, much to the actor’s surprise and delight. Oberon also asks Puck to help out Helena so that Demetrius falls in love with her. But naughty Puck accidentally mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and soon enough chaos ensues as the romances interlink and much squabbling occurs thanks to Puck’s devilish intervention.
Michael Hoffman successfully translates the enjoyable and funny qualities of the play to the screen with both imagination and inventiveness. He updates the setting to pre-twentieth century and it actually works very well, though I’m sure purists may quibble and take issue with it. The update allows for some beautiful scenery and gorgeous cinematography that is marvellous. A few parts of his direction are flawed, such as letting some scenes in the middle to lumber on longer than necessary, yet his overall control and skill is evidence throughout as he retains the riotous humour of the piece. Hoffman also is adept at being scriptwriter, bringing the fantasy and romantic switch ups into full fruition with humour and style and sticking to Shakespeare’s poetic verve. A vibe of sexiness is ever-present through this film; found in the double entendres and the presence of Cupid gone awry, causing humorous and unexpected matches. A modernity also pervades many parts of this adaptation, with the literal mud-slinging style catfight between Hermia and Helena a highlight. Set design, particularly in the enchanted forest and Titania’s otherworldly domain, has a definite theatrical quality that feels right for something like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, yet is embellished by the beauty of cinematic eyes and the gorgeousness that celluloid can provide. A light and twinkling score, also infused with some grand operatic arias, sets the pace of the film and what will follow with playful glee.
A handsomely star-studded cast fleshes out the roles of this romantic comic fantasy and are skilled with speaking Shakespeare’s words. The biggest standout is Kevin Kline, who is in his element as the buffoonish but strangely touching Bottom. By balancing the two aspects of comedy and pathos, Kline rules the roost and gives his all to the comic yet poignant character whose garrulous ways and thespian dreams are turned on their head by the adventure in the forest. An effervescent Michelle Pfeiffer is ideally cast as Titania; radiating imperious mannerisms and sweet love especially when funnily bewitched by a transformed Bottom. Not only does Pfeiffer look the part, she plays it extremely well and with ethereal poise. Rupert Everett, with his smooth voice and rakish demeanor, makes for an appropriately louche Oberon, whose schemes are both amusingly wicked and benevolent yet flawed. Calista Flockhart is an inspired choice for the part of Helena, emerging both as earnestly passionate but unlucky and wittily sharp. Flockhart’s performance which takes on a tragicomic nature is up there with Kline as one of the standouts within A Midsummer Night’s Dream. An appealing performance of spirit and vivacity is given by the gorgeous Anna Friel, who gets some very good lines as the star-crossed Hermia. Both Dominic West and Christian Bale have fun as Lysander and Demetrius, who more often than not are sparring partners battling for the affections of Helena and Hermia thanks to the magical mix up. Lending impish relish, sprightly naughtiness and hilarious moments is the ever reliable Stanley Tucci portraying Puck, whose attempts at bringing lovers together go rather awry. Now in supporting roles we have David Strathairn, Sophie Marceau, Bernard Hill and Sam Rockwell, who are all actors I very much admire. The trouble is they aren’t utilized well enough here and the film could have benefited from showing them a bit more.
Purists may balk at the change of setting and it must be said that a few parts of the film could have been trimmed, yet A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a warmly funny and sexy interpretation of the play from the Bard.