A Midsummer Night’s Dream
December 13, 1981
| 112 minutes
Directed by: Elijah Moshinsky
| Literature: William Shakespeare
Duke Theseus (Nigel Davenport) orders gala ceremonies for his coming marriage to Hippolyta (Estelle Kohler), Queen of the Amazons. But domestic strife intrudes upon the atmosphere when one of the duke's subjects, Hermia (Pippa Guard), chooses Lysander (Robert Lindsay) as her future husband over her father Egeus' choice, Demetrius (Nicky Henson). Theseus reminds Hermia of a law requiring her to obey her father or face death or banishment. Hermia and Lysander then escape to the woods. There, tradesmen are rehearsing a play for the duke's wedding. Demetrius, the rejected suitor, searches the woods for Hermia, while another young lady, Helena (Cherith Mellor), follows him, praying that he will bestow his love on her instead of Hermia. Also in the woods are fairies gathered to bless the duke's wedding. Oberon, the fairy king, argues violently with his queen, Titania (Helen Mirren), after she refuses to give him a boy he wants as a servant. In retaliation, Oberon orders a fairy named Puck (Phil Daniels) to concoct a potion of flower juice, which, when squeezed on Titania's eyelids, will enamor her of the first creature she sees - whether animal or man.
Cast: Helen Mirren (Titania), Estelle Kohler (Hippolyta), Nigel Davenport (Theseus), Hugh Quarshie (Philostrate), Geoffrey Lumsden (Egeus), Phil Daniels (Puck), Pippa Guard (Hermia), Nicky Henson (Demetrius), Robert Lindsay (Lysander), Cherith Mellor (Helena), Geoffrey Palmer (Quince), Brian Glover (Bottom), John Fowler (Flute), Don Estelle (Starveling), Nat Jackley (Snout), Ray Mort (Snug), Peter McEnery (Oberon), Tania Bennett (Fairy), Alexandra Segal (Fairy), Louise Mason (Fairy), Lee Macdonald (Fairy), Bruce Savage (Peaseblossom), Massimo Mezzofanti (Cobweb), Dominic Martelli (Moth), Timothy Cross (Mustardseed)
Four years after the first collaboration on “As You Like It”, Helen Mirren reteamed with the BBC Shakespeare Collection for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. After her 1964 debut at the The National Youth Theatre, playing Helena, and Peter Hall’s 1968 screen adaptation, in which she played Hermia, Helen now plays the role of Titania. The BBC Television Shakespeare adaptation was directed by Elijah Moshinsky and broadcast on 13 December 1981 in a dark-hued, somewhat claustrophobic and vaguely menacing production very strongly influenced by seventeenth-century Dutch painting, starring Nigel Davenport, Mirren, Robert Lindsay, Brian Glover and Phil Daniels. A few days earlier, on 10 December, the accompanying Shakespeare in Perspective documentary was presented by Roy Strong. A year later, Helen would join the BBC for a third Shakespeare collaboration – Cymbeline.
As usual with Shakespeare adapatations, I lack the knowledge to say if it’s well done, or faithful to the material. This adaptation looks completely different than Peter Hall’s 1968 film adaptation and – in comparison – it’s interesting to see how the roles are performed differently by the actors – there’s no comparison between Judi Dench’s Titania and Helen Mirren’s Titania. This adaptation looks quite moody and has an interesting style. It would be unfair to critizise it’s rather low-budget look since this is not the kind of film to consume a big budget. The acting ranges from good to odd, with Helen ranging in the latter category. She doesn’t have many scenes, but plays them powerful and focused, so I’d recommend this to everyone interested and not interested in Shakespeare for Helen’s memorable performance.