I guess I must be on a mild Shakespeare bender at the moment, since I spent yesterday evening watching A Midsummer-Night’s Dream. It took longer than it should have, because I was partly following the text at first. I soon gave that up, for now, because some bits are shifted around, others left out. Some of the soliloquies are cut off at their peak, and not allowed to wind down as per the text – but they’re the better for it.
Ebert and other critics have commented that the four “young lovers” in the play are almost interchangeable; so here the director has chosen distinct character actors for the roles, including Christian Bale (Empire Of The Sun, American Psycho) as Demetrius, and Calista Flockhart (Ally McBeal) as Helena, in an enjoyably over-the-top portrayal of a highly dramatic character. Not that it matters when they’re all wrestling in a pool of mud, after Puck (Stanley Tucci) confuses their emotions by drugging them.
Helena spends much of the time passionately chasing Demetrius around the forest on a bicycle, then clashes with Hermia (Anna Friel), who has eloped with her lover Lysander (Dominic West), to escape her father, who insists she marry Demetrius, the son of the local godfather Thesus (David Strathairn), who’s about to get married to Hippolyta (Sophie Marceau). Hermia naturally tries to encourage Helena to win Demetrius over, as a way of resolving the conflict:
Helena: O! teach me how you look, and with what art
You sway the motion of Demetrius’ heart.
Hermia: I frown upon him, yet he loves me still.
Helena: O! that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill.
Hermia: I give him curses, yet he gives me love.
Helena: O! that my prayers could such affection move.
Hermia: The more I hate, the more he follows me.
Helena: The more I love, the more he hateth me.
Hermia: His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.
Helena: None, but your beauty: would that fault were mine!
I’m not going to describe the whole plot here – but the fact that I could is a compliment to the writers, who turned a slightly confusing play into a well-plotted film. As with Hamlet, Shakespeare uses a “play within a play” as a structural device, this time played as a farce, since Bottom (Kevin Kline) and his friends aren’t very good actors, frankly. Pity the poor actor playing “The Wall” on that stage.
This was my first experience of the play in any form – I’ve neither read it before nor watched it staged. I can see the fascination it holds for many, and how its ideas have been used elsewhere. I can imagine a gritty modern version, where the “fairy dust” spread around by Puck is replaced by Rohypnol…