Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night… Ghostly apparitions, star-crossed lovers, mistaken identity… If you mashed up all three of these Shakespeare plays, you would get the plot of his work Cymbeline. We’ve seen modernized versions of Shakespeare in the past, with films like Baz Luhrmann‘s Romeo + Juliet, O (for Othello), Hamlet, 10 Things I Hate About You, which was a modern incarnation of The Taming of the Shrew, and She’s The Man, meant to resemble Twelfth Night. Only R+J and Hamlet made the bold decision to use the original text. This can be a hindrance in getting audiences through the door. Some might look at this as too much of a challenge when stepping into a movie theater versus going to see a live play. Let alone the general understanding of the language, it’s not the easiest to follow for some. Cymbeline knocks it out of the park in both use of text and understanding. With a glorious cast, filled to the brim with talented celebrities, this version of Shakespeare’s work is pretty spot on.
The basic outline of this play turned film is as such: King Cymbeline is a drug kingpin who is at war with a local Police Chief, Caius Lucius. He is remarried to a widowed woman with a son named Cloten. Her aim is to swoop in and take the thrown from Cymbeline by pushing aside his daughter Imogen, who has secretly married to Posthumus. Further shenanigans are forced when Iachimo makes a wager with Posthumus that he can deflower Imogen while he, Posthumus has been banished from the land. Follow all that? Probably not, but that’s alright. Murder, mayhem, cross-dressing, secret dealings, and power plays are all present, since Shakespeare can’t ever stick to a simple story line. There is enough in this film for everyone and then some.
Much like a live stage version of this kind, the plot does get tied up in a convenient bow in the end. Director Michael Almereyda makes the decision to cut the original multiple acts into a tight 85 minutes. It is a lot going on in a short span of time, but.. for a fan of Shakespeare, it is a success. Each cast member is superb in their performance. Stand outs for me were Ethan Hawke, who clearly has an insane grasp on the text. His is magnetic and effortless on screen. I could have watched an entire film about his role as Iachimo. Dakota Johnson is stunning as Imogen. Her portrayal is so precise and yet completely carefree. I want to see her onstage with an opportunity to tackle full text in the future. She really is a star. Milla Jovovich plays the queen. She is incredibly comfortable in a role I would have not thought to cast her in. While she has played a villain in the past, it was for comic effect in Zoolander. This role is secretive and plotting, almost unbeknownst to the audience. Her subtlety is to be applauded. John Leguizamo plays Pisanio with the skill we first saw in R+J back in 1999. Anton Yelchin as Cloten is a true creep with an inflated ego; not something I think of when it comes to this young actor. Bravo Anton. There is not a loose end in the cast which makes this film all the more enjoyable.
Cymbeline is a whirlwind of plot but pays off in the end. Making Shakespeare accessible to the masses is quite the feat. I am happy to say that Cymbeline is most definitely a successful undertaking. Check out the trailer for full effect…
CYMBELINE opens today, Friday the 13th, in theaters and on VOD.
A Film by: Michael Almereyda
Featuring: Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, John Leguizamo, Penn Badgley, Dakota Johnson, Anton Yelchin, Bill Pullman, Delroy Lindo, Kevin Corrigan