Film Review: Twelfth Night (2018)

With Sheila Atim playing both Viola and Sebastian, this film of Twelfth Night has many a highlight even if it is ultimately overlong

“You will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard”

As a debut for both Shanty Productions and Adam Smethurst as screenwriter and director, this Twelfth Night is an intriguing thing. At a more than healthy 2 hours 45 minutes, its slavish adherence to the text can feel like a bit of a challenge as it occasionally feels like it is moving at a glacial pace. On the other hand, it has Sheila Atim doing double duty as shipwrecked twins Viola and Sebastian and so it proves a great showcase for her.

Filmed over a single month in West Sussex on an economical budget, this contemporary imagining of Shakespeare’s tale of mistaken identities and affections gone haywire benefits from some astute casting. Shalini Peiris’s Olivia is younger than the average but it’s a choice that makes sense of her impetuous nature, and leaning into Antony Bunsee’s experience makes for a compelling Malvolio, the unlikeliness of any relationship between them all the more stark for once.

And with Atim thrown into the mix as Viola/Cesario, the chain reaction of their confused emotions is really quite engaging. The comic business is well done with a blunt Sir Toby from Simon Nagra, a truly tragicomic Sir Andrew from an excellent Dominic Coleman, sterling work from Lisa Zahra’s self-possessed Maria and a nice turn from Steven Miller as a cheeky Fabian. And there’s mileage in Ben Whybrow’s take on Orsino as a bored rich kid with too much time on his hands.

But for all the contemporary setting, this is still mainly a traditional interpretation and so it isn’t really one to get the blood pumping. The decision to leave so much of the text in does take so much paciness from so many scenes and in the same vein, it doesn’t feel like Smethurst has been particularly interested many innovative film-making techniques which leaves the whole thing feeling somewhat old-fashioned, though still good quality. Which one suspects is largely the intent, and to that extent it has succeeded.  

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