This has got to be one of Shakespeare’s most accessible works. He is certainly known for his tragedies, but this is a comedy. It’s a fun story that has a very dream-like quality to it. The cast is superb. Let’s face it, not everyone is good at delivering lines from Shakespeare’s plays. However, I thought everyone in this movie did a fantastic job. Whoever cast this movie deserves a medal.
The movie is set at the turn of the 19th century in Athens. This is a time when arranged marriages are the norm and daughters are considered property to be given to whomever the father sees fit. Love doesn’t enter into the equation.
This is the predicament that Hermia (Anna Friel) finds herself in. Her father has promised her to Demetrius (Christian Bale); however, she is in love with Lysander (Dominic West). Her father takes the matter before the Duke (David Strathairn) and asks for Athenian law to be followed. Either she marries Demetrius or she is put to death. Much to his fiancé’s displeasure, the Duke sides with the father. However, he gives Hermia a third option, to become a nun and forever give up the company of men. This is the option she chooses.
Before this can happen, Hermia and Lysander decide to run away together. They tell their plans to Helena (Calista Flockhart) before they leave (she and Hermia have been friends since childhood). To further complicate things, Helena is in love with Demetrius, so she thinks she might be able to win his love by telling him of their plans to run off.
The four young people all end up out in the woods. Which just happens to be the realm of the Fairy King (Rupert Everett) and Queen (Michelle Pfeiffer), who also happen to be in the middle of a disagreement. With the help of one of his fairies, Puck (Stanley Tucci) the King decides to play a trick on the queen and at the same time help out the young Athenian couple he found arguing in the woods (Helena and Demetrius).
He has Puck get a magic flower that is used to make someone fall in love with the very next living creature they see. The King uses it on the Queen so that she will fall in love with some creature in the woods. This is his way of getting back at her. He also instructs Puck to use the flower on Demetrius so that he will fall in love with Helena.
However, Puck comes across the wrong couple. He uses it on Lysander instead. Unfortunately, the first person Lysander sees is Helena. Thus starts the comedy of errors. Now Lysander loves Helena and hates Hermia. Of course the girls are both confused by this course of events, Helena thinks Lysander must be playing a trick on her. To try to fix things Puck then uses the flower on Demetrius, who then falls in love with Helena also. This leads to all kinds of craziness, including the two girls wrestling in a muddy pool of water.
While all this is going on a dramatic troupe is in the woods practicing for an upcoming performance at the palace. Nick Bottom (Kevin Kline) gets separated from the rest of the troupe and Puck, who can’t resist playing a practical joke on a mortal, gives him a face resembling a donkey, complete with long ears. He even starts sounding a bit like one when he laughs. I suppose you can guess who the Fairy Queen sees and falls in love with. Yep, that would be donkeyish Nick.
As you can imagine, things get progressively more interesting as this all plays out. The Fairy King finds out that Puck screwed up everything with the young couples and tells him he needs to set it straight. While he takes it upon himself to undo what has been done to his Queen, he has decided she has suffered enough.
Like I said before, all of the actors were just wonderful. However, Rupert Everett, Kevin Kline and Stanley Tucci all deserve special mention. They all just totally inhabit their characters and really understand how to properly deliver Shakespearean lines. I have to say although I have enjoyed Rupert’s performances in pretty much every movie I have seen him in; he absolutely excels at Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. He just totally gets those two and never fails to deliver an outstanding performance. Not to mention, he is drop dead sexy in this movie.
Some of my favorite scenes (without being too spoilery):
The scene when the Fairy King is telling Puck about the magic flower, how it is used and what he wants to accomplish with it is terrific. Rupert Everett and Stanley Tucci have wonderful chemistry together. It is such a cute scene.
Puck is so funny when he discovers Lysander’s bicycle and he doesn’t know what it is. He starts poking it with a stick to see if it’s safe to touch. Eventually, he learns that it can be rolled back and forth. Finally, he discovers that he can ride it and ends up stealing it. Stanley gives this scene such a wonderful, childlike quality.
When both Demetrius and Lysander are in love with Helena and Hermia is so confused about what is going on is great. Both guys are fighting over Helena. Then she and Hermia also start fighting and insulting each other. It’s a rather silly, slightly over the top scene that is such fun to watch.
This is a very enjoyable movie to watch. It’s got it all, a lovely story, terrific actors and great sets. It is a winner, even if you are not typically a fan of Shakespeare.
Following is additional information about the movie that contains spoilers. If you don’t want to be spoiled don’t read any further.
I thought it was great that the Duke really seemed to love his fiancé and care what she thinks. Given the time the story is set in and the fact that most marriages were arranged, it was nice to see a genuinely happy couple.
It was such a Puck-like thing to do, arranging the two couples together (naked of course) where they would be found by the Duke’s hunting party. It was a sweet scene, with the Duke consulting his fiancé and then deciding that the couples should be with who they want, regardless of what Hermia’s father wants.
The whole performance of the Thisbe and Pyramus play was just wonderful. Full of over-acting and general silliness. Then to have Thisbe’s final scene done in such a heartfelt and emotional manner finished it off perfectly. Sam Rockwell was fantastic in that scene.
Sometimes it’s nice to have a movie where everyone lives happily ever after (except for Hermia’s father I guess, but he was a jerk, so who cares).