Franco Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew has been one of my favourite Shakespearean film adaptations since my youth. Be it Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s comedic and palpable portrayal of Katharina and Petruchio, the opulent costumes and set pieces, or deliverance of the very dialogue that pulled me in, I still find myself delighted with each screening. In watching again for the first time in many years, I was quite taken with a variety of significant details in the film’s production. There are, of course, typicalities featured in many films, such as the use of pathetic fallacy to reflect the mood, the emotionally driven film score to accompany each scene, and a vibrant show of colour and lighting to uncover many character qualities – though I was intrigued more by the dissimilar aspects of the film.
One such notable interpretive choice is the use of extreme close up shots of characters’ eyes. Primarily in the first several scenes, this directorial incorporation is certainly remarkable in its allowance for the true emotion of a character to be presented. For instance, while watching her sister arrive at their abode early on, Katharina’s sheer vexation is abundantly shown; alternatively, her fondness of Petruchio is revealed in an affectionate examination through the stained glass of the room in which she is locked following their brawl. Bianca herself is even subject to such a dramatic angle, as she views her suitors through the shutters of her family home (prior to being attacked by her antagonistic sister). Though a seemingly uncomplicated addition to the film, it separates this picture from others of its kind, and further provides insight into the very thoughts of the character – after all, the eyes are the windows to the soul, are they not?
Another weighty contribution to the film is the character development that emerges without dialogue – or in ‘film time’, as described by Crowl. Certainly stemming from Franco Zeffirelli’s operatic nature, the choice to embrace this display not only heightens comedy or drama, but also the opportunity to advance an understanding of a character, and thus, the changes in and between characters that play throughout the story. Such segments are displayed in a number of scenes, such as the impatience and embarrassment of guests in reacting to the calamity of Kate and Petruchio’s wedding day, the contrasting aspirations of Petruchio and Kate en route to their country home, or even Katharina’s smugness in cleaning Petruchio’s home. In my youth, I found many of these discussion-less incorporations most entertaining, and little has changed as the years have waned, save for my realization of the pronounced changes to characters’ dispositions.
Taylor, Burton, and the supporting casts’ portrayal of their characters in an appreciably dramatic manner is certainly another highlight of the film. Though the interpretive decision was made to remove many excerpts from the original play, it is as if one is seeing the production live due to the spectacle and extravagance of the piece. Furthermore, chemistry between characters, particularly the two leads (understandably so, as they were married to each other at the time), is ineffably palpable, leading to a believable and dazzling final product. Nevertheless, while the drama and chemistry between Taylor and Burton is certainly appealing, Zeffirelli’s portrayal of their characters is occasionally prolonged past welcome, including the great and exhausting chase that takes place within first few scenes; it gradually transitions from a playful pursuit to a tediously extended monotony (an entire 13 minutes in total). The case is similar with the potentially excessive portrayal of Petruchio’s morning ‘hangover’ routine, or even Katharina and Petruchio’s destructive tendencies throughout. Though a degree of such interaction and profligacy is worthwhile and compelling by individual characters or between several, such regularity may result in a desire for the the shrew’s tameness to present itself sooner than written for the sake of audiences’ amusement.
Surely this portrayal is not a direct representation of Shakespeare’s classic work, and nor is it a near-perfect depiction, though without too many liberties taken on part of the cast and crew, the work is still unmistakably a Shakespeare film. Despite an overzealous antagonism between characters, or a possibly overabundant focus on ex, I found the film easily understood, amusing, and utterly enjoyable. For its time and scale, the Taming of the Shrew is a spectacular, entertaining, and substantial contribution to the genre of Shakespearean film.
Matthew Moghadam, 10120896