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TWELFTH NIGHT

Director: Trevor Nunn. Starring: Imogen Stubbs, Helena Bonham-Carter, Nigel Hawthorne, Ben Kingsley, Richard E. Grant (U)

The question is - the question always is - how will we get the youngsters in to watch a spot of Shakespeare. How do you break it to them that even the most free wheeling adaptation of Twelfth Night won't be able to accommodate the bulldozing tanks of this year's Richard III, or the flashy gun play of the forthcoming Romeo and Juliet? Perhaps we're asking the wrong questions here. Perhaps we should be considering how we break it to an adult that this film, with its lovely jostling storylines knocking against one another like bubbling pots on a crowded stove, has turned out to be a bit of a bore. Not for its absence of tanks, guns and death. For its absence of life.

Twelfth Night isn't a badly made film; it just has no business existing. Like a Robson and Jerome cover version, it neither adds to nor subtracts from your appreciation of the source material. Nunn finds few ways of reflecting the play's themes, but you wouldn't call his style imaginative.

Some of the staging is excellent. And the moustaches are all really quite splendid. I'd go so far as to say Twelfth Night is the finest moustache movie since Tombstone. There are great bold moustaches like the wings of an eagle, and little wispy ones that might leave the upper lip at the slightest breeze. When the ship crashes Sebastian and Viola are in the middle of a bizarre cabaret drag act in which they remove each other's face furniture. But Sebastian's is real, and when his sister reaches up to peel it off, the ship goes down. That's what happens when you meddle with masculinity. As she's heading for the ocean bed, Viola rescues her tiny hairy prop. That's some foresight - you'd have thought that a fake moustache would have been the least of your concerns as you are steaming toward oblivion. Apparently not.

Moustaches aside, the film leaves little impression. Most of the cast are fairly sprightly though Nigel Hawthorne breaks the mood of the film by actually being outstanding as Malvolio, playing wounded with a blend of grudging comedy and grim tragedy which recalls Michael Hordern (who actually played the part in 1954). Helena Bonham Carter is the funniest thing here, with that Princess Di lilt of the head; however grave things get, she never loses the look of a girl who's just been told to tidy her room. And Ben Kingsley is rather moving as the supposed clown Feste.

But mostly Nunn gives us no indication as to the way he has chosen film as the medium for this production. As a movie, it would look great on the radio. That would mean no moustaches. But it's a sacrifice I'd be willing to make.

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