Monday, 21 June 2010

The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare Remembered

Another repost in my TOP 100 entry while I'm away...
...I shall be counting down the final ten soon.
I have a penchant for Shakespeare. As far as I’m concerned he’s the greatest writer in the world living or dead, and I’ve always taken a liking to films based on his plays. Some are good and some are not so good, but I am very fond of this particular adaptation. The Taming of the Shrew is one of the best Shakespeare adaptations to hit the big screen. It’s just a really good film – the writing, the direction, the costumes and oh the acting. I’m trying to describe this film and all the words coming to me are superlatives. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are two of the greatest actors ever and this is their second best collaboration (second only to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). The strength of this play lies in the portrayal of the main character Katherine – the eponymous Shrew and Elizabeth Taylor is magnificent in this tour-de-force role. If Hamlet is the best male role Shakespeare ever wrote then Katherine is definitely the best female role.
The story of The Taming of the Shrew is simple. Katherine is the older daughter of Baptista a nobleman of Padua. She is a shrewish and temperamental young woman who vows never to marry. Her sister Bianca is somewhat of a hussy – well as much as you can be in the 1500s. She has countless suitors flocking to her, but Baptista refuses to relinquish his youngest until the older is betrothed…which doesn’t look too likely. A rather brash man shows up in Padua willing to try his hand at wooing at Katherine since she has a respectable dowry on her. What ensues is a string of highly comedic scenes and lots of loud voices with much hilarity. If you know how it ends (and shame on you if you don’t) you’ll know that the ending is somewhat unsatisfying in terms of the women, but I always figured that this was meant to be a satire (like most Shakespeare comedies) and not a realistic outlook on life. And at the end of this movie, there's a shot of Katharine's face that seems very enigmatic.
It’s a testimony to Elizabeth Taylor that whenever I read "The Taming of the Shrew" it is her, and only her, that I imagine as Katherine. You’re probably wondering, is she the only good in the film? Of course not. Richard Burton more than matches her as the cad Petruchio. We already know that they had great chemistry, but it’s really heightened in this film and especially the wooing scene is just a joy to watch. The physicality of both their performances is just engrossing. And with Liz and Richard doing their thing it’s quite hard actually for anyone else to get a noticed. The original play was already working against them because only Katherine and Petruchio have especially strong scenes. However, Victor Spinetti who plays Hortensio – a friend of Petruchio – was memorable in his supporting turn.

It’s kind of beyond me as to why this movie only got 2 Oscar nominations [for Costume and Art Design] I mean, the year wasn’t exactly THAT tough. The nominated the goddman Dr. Dolittle for best picture. What's more amazing is that this movie was shot after Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? where they both went the deglam route.
If you haven't seen it, and many haven't, you should definitely go and check this film out. You won't be disappointed...I hope. In addition to the great acting of the leads, the aforementioned costume and set decoration, this film boasts a melodic comedic score, and beautiful cinematography. Franco Ziffirelli does a good job directing the film, and although it doesn't stick staunchly to the play it's still too much fun for me not to love it.


Heather said...

I can't explain my joy to hear you explain your Shakespeare affection. Since I was young and didn't even understand what his plays were really about, I fell for his writing. Of course I misinterpreted things on a regular basis, but as I got older it just made everything since somewhat newly realized.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

so nice to see a fellow shakespeare lover. like you i went a little wild for him as child and misread quite a few (i still hate all's well that ends worst for him).