Katarina Nedeljakova: Film Review

Film Review: Nunn’s Twelfth Night

Nunn's Twelfth Night (1996)

Nunn’s Twelfth Night (1996)

Nunn’s Twelfth Night (1996) is a modern take on the classical Shakespearean comedy. Created during the so-called renaissance of commercialized Shakespeare film in the 1990’s, elements of this play reflect both its predecessor as well as a more modernized style. From a variety of dramatic shots to quickly changing musical scores, contrasting elements of film are used to deepen the sense of drama. Many parallels are also present in the play, carefully placed to emphasize the irony of the play.

What I found noteworthy in Act I was the background music in the opening scene. Once Viola awoke on the beach, a soft orchestra was played as she reminisced over her brother, who she believed had drowned. However as the guards galloped in, the whole mood of the scene changed; in a matter of seconds the audience got the feeling of great urgency simply by changing the score to a fast paced orchestra. This, paired with quick tracking shots of the survivors running through the forest, establishes the setting and the mood (while giving important background information not explicitly stated in the play) in one montage.

There is a powerful parallel also present when Viola first sees Olivia mourning. After questioning the Captain, it is revealed that Olivia’s brother has recently died, mirroring Viola’s situation. Conveyed by flashes between medium and long shots, we are given the impression that even though they have never met, Viola and Olivia are not that different. This scene serves as a precursor to the dramatic irony that Twelfth Night consists of, mostly later on when Olivia falls in love with Viola (disguised as Cesario).Violaolivia

As the film progresses, both contrasts and parallels seen between many of the remaining scenes. When the drunken party is playing music in the kitchen (at 45:00), the same song is played in the background of the scene when Viola and Duke Orsino play a game of cards. This time, the music is a connection between the two scenes instead of a tool used to create contrast as discussed previously. The main difference in the two scenes is the mood. In the scene with Duke Orsino and Viola the background is a reddish hue, giving the viewer gets a sense of warmth and intimacy.

This scene has warmer colors and a more intimate feel

This scene has warmer colors and a more intimate feel

This is intensifies the dramatic irony, as it is obvious to the audience that Viola is in love with Orsino. When the scenes change, it is a stark contrast. Drunk Fester is singing the same song that was playing in the previous scene, but paired with the setting a much colder atmosphere is given. The background has a blue tint and is set in a bare kitchen. However, the acting and close up shots of the listeners’ faces reveal that the Fester’s song also holds some meaning for them.

Festers' drunken singing

Festers’ drunken singing


While this overlap of Act II Scene III and the first half of Act II Scene IV was well done, I was surprised to see that the entirety of Act II Scene IV was not kept as one scene in the film. The second half of Act II Scene IV (as written in the original play) took place much later in the movie and was staged as an argument between Cesario and the Duke. Compared to the intimate moment they shared earlier in the cozy living quarters, this scene took place outdoors with the ocean crashing angrily in the background. This, along with the blue lighting and the rocky setting, gives viewers the impression that Viola is feeling negative emotions. She is distraught and unable to contain her love for the Duke any longer. From the directors and filmmakers perspective, it is understandable that the second half was pushed to later on in the movie, to preserve the slow pacing during the first half of Nunn’s Twelfth Night.

Act II Scene IV pt.2 is a stark contrast to pt.1

Act II Scene IV pt.2 is a stark contrast to pt.1

In my opinion, Nunn balanced the original play with the demand for commercial Shakespeare movies well. He managed to keep the light mood of comedy, while making use of the many elements of film. This included dramatic events that not only set the pace of the movie, but heightened a sense of dramatic irony for the viewer, which is what gave Twelfth Night its riveting feel.

Works Cited:

Shakespeare plays “Twelfth Night”: https://www.playshakespeare.com/twelfth-night/scenes/1054-act-ii-scene-3

Nunn’s Twelfth Night 1996: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelfth_Night_(1996_film)

Shakespeare and Film, A Norton Guide, Samuel Crowl



Tekla McIlhargey: Film Review


I was immediately intrigued by the opening scene of Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night or What You Will when we were shown a clip in class and so it was an easy decision to write my film review on this specific film.  I found that with the breathtaking location choices to the purposeful use of light and dark I was drawn into the film and the story yet not overwhelmed by one particular film technique.  A compelling choice of Shakespeare’s original text was used and unfamiliar words were swapped for specific words more understandable for modern audience.  I found this technique would likely be useful in allowing a wider audience to enjoy one of Shakespeare’s best (in my opinion) comedic romances.

In act one, scene five, when Viola disguised as Cesario and Olivia meet for the first time, Viola is brought into a dark room where it is hard to see much of anything.  There is no sound except for the soft clicking of a clock.  This choice of natural lighting and lack of music work well with Violas initial confusion and consistent request for confirmation that Olivia is indeed the lady of the house.  As the text between Viola and Olivia becomes more personal, we see a pique in Olivia’s interest through close camera shots of her big expressive eyes and we see Viola thrust open the curtains to blind Olivia with light. We see the two end the visit on an intimate note out in the garden with Viola yelling “Olivia!” bolding and much to Olivia’s pleasant surprise, seen through an up close shot of Olivia’s expression.  They are fully in the light of the sun. Olivia has moved from a dark sorrowful place to a light loving place, both personally and visually.


In act two, scene four, we find Viola, Orsino and Feste alone in a small, dark lit cabin.  This is not similar to Shakespeare’s original text as there is a larger group written in the original, however, the dialogue between the characters is similar and Feste’s song is identical.  Once again, I found the choice of natural lighting worked well with the scene, it is intimate and allows for the audience to behold a very close and seductive relationship between Viola and Orsino.  As Feste is singing the camera breaks between short shots of Feste singing and longer, slower shots of Viola and Orsino moving their heads closer to one other and almost kissing.  The darkness and natural lighting, the low, soft music and slow camera movements makes for a very intimate scene.


The final scene of the play is act five, scene one.   Although this is not the last scene of the movie, it is, in my opinion, the most tense.  We watch quick shots as the quarrel and confusion escalade between the characters.  The look of confusion on Olivia’s face when she first welcomes Viola and Orsino to her home is a choice by actress Helena Bonham Carter to show her confusion as to why her ‘husband’ has arrived with Orsino and seems just fine with Orsino’s expression of adoration without her having to say a word.  The scene continues through quick up close shots and longer wide angle shots while we watch the cast and the emotion grow.  The perplexity and then clarity on the actors faces brings the audience to the climax as we watch the slow lingering shot of Olivia and her words, straight from Shakespeare’s text, “most wonderful”.


The use of music, scene location and natural lighting, as well as the choice exerts from Shakespeare’s original text created an intense build up and finale that was exactly what the audience would have been waiting for.  As the film closes there is sequence of long shots with the characters dispersing towards their futures and Feste dancing merrily away singing; as an audience it feels we have been given a fair and comfortable ending.


Hilary James: Film Review

Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night or What You Will (1996) is a witty, heartfelt rendition of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy. Nunn brought the story to life through excellent casting, giving the audience background information, and physical closeness to the characters.

The true highlight of the film for me was watching Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia and Imogen Stubbs as Viola/Cesario bring their characters to life in a somehow comical, yet relatable way. Cesario’s hilariously frustrated attempts to avert Olivia’s ardent affection was a joy to watch. Bonham Carter gives an authentic performance of the almost irrational passion for Cesario, and even her sudden reversal of love towards Sebastian is believable. Nunn makes use of a short voiceover to give us insight into Olivia’s mind as she first falls for Cesario, which quickly turns into her speaking aloud to herself- but sets up the idea that we are listening in on her thoughts.

Nunn’s rendition of Twelfth Night for the screen had many advantages- one of which being that the audience can truly view and understand the backstory behind the text. Most pointedly, the very first scene not only sets up Viola and Sebastian’s loving relationship, but explicitly shows us the events (a shipwreck) that would have happened before the first act. It also sets up Feste as a sort of observer and narrator of the action as he watches afar from a cliff. Secondly, the audience truly gets a sense of the effort behind Viola’s transformation into a man by having scenes of her cutting her hair, binding her breasts, stuffing her pants, and pasting on a moustache both at the beginning and later on in the film as a reminder of her daily struggle. Even a scene showing Viola hastily remove a man’s hands from her hidden breasts reveals her constant danger of being revealed. Thirdly, the arrival of Sebastion is foreshadowed in a flash forward of him alive in the sea, preparing the audience for a change of events.

Another decision that Nunn made, and that the medium of film allowed, was the arrangement of scenes and cuts back and forth between the action in order to give a sense of real time. The different shots allowed the audience to see characters reactions in real time (such as when Sir Toby and Sir Andrew watch their prank on Malvolio unfold in the hedges), and builds tension as we see events unfold in different places at the same time.

I found that Nunn makes special use of the physical closeness that the camera offers to characters. Specifically, he builds palpable tension between Viola (as Cesario), and Orsino in instances such as the bathtub scene. The tender nature of Viola washing her master’s back reveals her desire for him, and her inner struggle to remain in disguise. They are often in close physical proximity, speaking mere inches from each others face. Because of this, I could feel the danger of Viola being revealed, her inner desire and struggle, and his confusion at their obvious (potentially romantic) connection.

Finally, Nunn builds a beautiful reunion between brother and sister through use of camera, music, acting, and backstory. As previously mentioned, Viola and Sebastion’s relationship is established in the first scene- making their reunion emotional and believable. His use of camera and editing keeps brother and sister in separate frames in distant shots as they first see each other- emphasizing the distance and separation the two have faced. Gradually, the shots move closer so we can see the emotional reactions of the actors, but there is still a sense of distance as they are kept in separate frames. This, to me, represented their hesitance to accept the reunion as real, in case they be disappointed. Finally, as the music builds, and the camera moves right up to their teary eyed faces, they embrace in a heartfelt conclusion to the homecoming.

I did not find Nunn’s direction to be revolutionary, the use of the camera was fairly standard (no extreme close up’s, minimal use of the camera as a character, etc.), and he kept fairly true to Shakespeare’s original text (there were large dialogue cuts of course, but the important plot points remained). He didn’t make special use of location shooting; there were minimal sets, some outdoor shots, nothing particularly grand or elaborate. However, this did not take away anything from the film for me, as I found the film’s greatest assets to be its homeliness and it’s wit.