Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shakespeare Retold: The Taming of the Shrew

Last week in a discussion on Facebook I was trying to convince Liz to watch the Shakespeare Retold version of The Taming of the Shrew, since Rufus Sewell is TO DIE FOR in it. And I realized, to my everlasting horror, that I hadn't watched this movie in years (an absolute TRAVESTY!). Since then, I'm on my second viewing in a week, and all is once more right in the Rufus Sewell-loving portion of my world.

Shakespeare Retold was a series of four made-for-television films that the BBC aired in 2005 (I can't BELIEVE it's been that long!). The series was made up of brilliantly realized modern takes on Shakespeare's plays (Shrew, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing). Shrew and Much Ado are my favorites, in most part thanks to the aforementioned Sewell in the former and Damian Lewis in the latter (but that, my friends, is another blog post).

Shirley Henderson plays Kate Minola, a hilariously psychotic MP who's the bane of her harrassed secretary's existence and an exasperating curiosity to her fashion-obsessed mother and sister. Her career is her life, and she's trying to organize a leadership campagin in her party with an eye to eventually becoming Prime Minister. She's advised that she has a better chance of winning her leadership campaign if she gets married - the question is, who'd possibly marry her? 

Henderson, perhaps best known as Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films, is pitch perfect as a modern incarnation of Shakespeare's shrew of a heroine. She may only be a tick over 5'0", but she is an absolute terror and I LOVE it. NO ONE does wonderfully pyschotic and intense like Henderson. She's first introduced while some Jaws-like theme music plays as she stomps through the halls of Parliament...and everyone she passes positively cowers in the face of her fury. In contrast, her sister Bianca (Jaime Murray, recently seen as H.G. Wells in the latest season of Warehouse 13), a model, is universally liked and receives multiple proposals a week. I've just got to say, I think Kate handles the having a stuck-on-herself model for a sister and Twiggy for a mother much better than I ever could. *wink*

Bianca's manager - instead of a tutor - Harry (Stephen Tompkinson), is in love with Bianca and toys with the idea of fixing up Kate with someone, anyone, so Bianca will be more marraige-minded. He introduces Kate to Petruchio (Rufus Sewell), an eccentric aristocrat looking for a rich wife to bail him out of his financial woes. They meet in an elevator -and, well...I can't really say anything to do justice to the brilliance of the moment except that the elevator scenes are hysterically funny. And freaking hot. I am convinced that Rufus Sewell has never been more swoon-worthy than as the appealing bad boy in the elevator. It's an absolutely classic moment as Kate and Petruchio exchange lightening fast zingers. The entire script, in fact, is full of fabulous, quotable moments (the insults are particularly noteworthy, LOL).

Everything comes together brilliantly in this adaptation, which remains remarkably - and surprisingly, perhaps - true to the source material, right down to Petruchio showing up to his wedding dressed in women's clothes (instead of an outlandish clown costume), and the ways in which he subsequently seeks to "tame" his furious bride, to the sun-is-the-moon discussion. It's interesting to compare this incarnation of the story to the other famous film version of the play - the 1967 Franco Zeffirelli film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the title roles. In particular, I think Sewell's Petruchio owes a great deal to Burton's gregarious, over-the top turn in the role. It's brilliant, Rufus is brilliant, and I just love, love, LOVE seeing him play a "good guy" like this.

Henderson and Sewell have unbelievably amazing on-screen chemistry. Whether they're fighting or making nice the sparks positively explode off the screen. The barbs and zingers fly fast and furious and non-stop in all of their scenes, but underneath the sparring they both manage to convey their respective character's insecurities and fears, really humanizing Kate and Petruchio, letting you see the motivations, pain, and fear behind their gloriously, wonderful, hilariously over-the-top personalities. I think Henderson does a fantastic job transforming Kate and making her emotionally vulnerable. She's a woman who has spent so long presenting a tough shell to the world, constructing impenetrable walls around her heart that have made her a raging and feared political success, that opening her heart to another requires more bravery than she's ever had to muster before.

Sewell's Petruchio is wonderful. WONDERFUL. I love how when we're introduced to him he's at such loose ends, not sure what to do with his life, only that he really needs to come into some money to get the tax man off his back. When he first meets Kate, you can see this instant transformation on his countenance - rather than being put off by her abominable rudeness, he's intrigued. This woman's something different, a glorious challenge, someone who isn't afraid to give as good or better than she takes. As Harry describes him to Kate during the critical, do-or-die moment, Petruchio is really just an "unstable, unbalanced exhibitionist who needs someone to think the world of him." Say it with me: awwww. :) I just adore Kate and Petruchio in this film, and the "wives obey your husbands" scene at the end is SO well played. I think the scriptwriter did a really great job translating Shakespeare's play to the present day.

Ratings-wise, this is probably a PG-13. There's some language and innuendo, bawdier than most regular Masterpiece fare, but so was Shakespeare when it comes down to it. :) Bawdy and hilarious in the best Shakespearean tradition, and  pro-marriage? Love it.

Rufus, m'dear, I promise I won't ever again let us spend so much time apart.


Renee (BlacknGoldGirlsBookSpot) said...

Oh wow! This sounds amazing, why have I not heard of it till now?! If you love it I'm sure I will since we have the BEST taste! ;-)

XOXO~ Renee

Lori said...

I remember watching this with you and Becky waaay back. I think one of my favorite lines is one of the PG-13 moments...HA! -- *swivel!*

I need to watch all 4 again...or at least this one and MacBeth.

Oh, and I've found eps of Spooks 9 online. I know it's supposed to end very badly, but there was some serious R.A. hotness in the last episode. He had a moment of angst that really reminded me of N&S.

Tales of Whimsy said...

Off subject: I find myself wanting to tweeze her eyebrows ;)

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I loved this series when it first debuted. Hope you'll talk about Much Ado soon-I just rewatched it after discovering the TV show "Life" starring Damian Lewis and enjoyed it all over again.

Unknown said...

@Renee - I'm so glad I resurrected this topic on my blog. This is a show that can never have to omany fans. And you are SO right, we have the best yeah, I think you'll love it. :)

@Lori - OMG, the "swivel" line gets me EVERY time! SOOOO hilarious!

You'll have to let me know what you think of Spooks...I know the ending of Series 9 was supposedly pretty devastating for R.A. fans.

@Juju - LOL, they are kind of hard to miss, no? ;)

@Bookworm1858 - You may get your wish this week, time permitting. :) Wasn't Damian Lewis great in the Life TV show?

Heidenkind said...

How did I possibly miss this??? I heart Rufus Sewell!

Unknown said...

@heidenkind - How did you miss this? Probably 'cause I'm the WORST BLOG FRIEND EVER. I feel certain you'll love this - at least I hope so! Keeping my fingers crossed. :)

Phylly3 said...

Love Rufus -- Love this adaptation very much! I watched it with my (twenty-something) daughter and she really enjoyed it too!
I'd like to watch the Taylor/Burton version again to compare the difference.
It is amazing how Kate's final pro-marriage speech can still work in the present day. (Although it made for some lively discussion with my daughter afterwards).

Unknown said...

@phylly3 - Yay, glad you enjoyed revisiting this adaptation, and that your daughter enjoyed it too! I'll bet that discussion that followed was interesting. :) And I hope you get a chance to revisit the Taylor/Burton film soon!

Ava said...

I realize that this is probably a few years too late, but I just found your blog. Looks like you're my new BFF. Reading your "About Me" section, we share SO MANY interests.

Thanks for this review. I love Rufus Sewell. He's in my Top 3 All-time Finest British Men (Michael Kitchen and Martin Shaw are numbers one and two, respectively....for now, since it changes, LOL).

So based on your review I've just gone to Amazon and ordered the "Shakespeare Retold" DVD since it sounds like something I'd really, really dig.

Just wanted you to know that there's yet another like you out in cyberspace. I'll read your blog to see if some of my questions can be answered there. I have a lot of them!

Take care, my new friend :O)