Friday, June 24, 2016

Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, adapted by Russell T. Davies

Today at Strange Horizons, I write about Russell T. Davies's adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream for the BBC.  It was a bit of a surprise to me that this film even existed--whatever promotion there was for it seems to have been swallowed up by the media blitz for the second season of The Hollow Crown.  And as I write in the review, this turns out to have been massively unfair, because whereas this year's Hollow Crown sequence was an uninspired slog enlivened, here and there, by a few fine performances, Davies's Dream is witty, fun, and most of all very smart in its approach to the play and its problems.  To be clear, this is still a Russell T. Davies production, with all the good and bad things that implies (the Murray Gold soundtrack is quite a hurdle, for example).  But ultimately, he and the play turn out to have been a perfect match, and the result is one of the most rewarding Shakespeare adaptations I've seen in some time.

My positive reaction to the movie is also rooted in the timing of my watching it--a few hours after I finished it, the news started pouring in about the horrible shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  On that day, Davies's approach to his material--in which diversity of race and sexuality is directly opposed to the forces of fascism and brutality--felt not just entertaining, but necessary.  But the review is being published on the same day that Britain wakes up to a new, post-EU reality, and suddenly the optimism of Davies's vision feels insufficient.  In a world in which the right wing has an even stronger grip on UK politics, is anyone going to let artists like Davies create follies like a TV movies of a Shakespeare play (which, among other things, bring supposedly "high" culture into the living rooms of anyone with a TV, not just those with the money and means to go to the theater)?  Will artists who want their work to be explicitly pro-diversity, pro-LGBT, and anti-fascist be able to find a platform?  So I find myself feeling a lot less hopeful about this work than I did when I watched it and wrote the review, but maybe, for people feeling hopeless today, Davies's Dream is exactly what they need.

8 comments:

Chris said...

Back here months later to say that as I watch the narrowing polls a few days before the U.S. election, I *really* feel what your second paragraph is saying. (I have another citizenship, but at the moment, neither that nor anywhere else in Europe looks much healthier in the long run. Besides, my entire life is here. And besides, "pick up and leave as soon as things go pear-shaped" isn't my school of civics anyway).

Here's hoping that the bad feeling won't be vindicated next Tuesday, but even if it is, the mere fact of the Trump candidacy is plenty enough to feel gloomy.

Chris said...

aaaand... no, sadly, the gloominess turns out to be justified.

I do still find myself thinking of that point about the pop cultural landscape, since it's something I follow as much as I do. The last couple years actually felt like the historic "others" were finally getting to claim the spot they deserved as full Americans in the popular imagination. We had an almost-all-nonwhite Broadway cast claiming the founding fathers' narrative for nonwhites, Django reclaiming the "western" narrative for people who were historically ignored and vilified in it, Marvel Comics running with a black Captain America and a Muslim Miss Marvel, and so forth.

How do you even tell stories like that in a post Trump America? Art in which immigrants, nonwhites, LGBTQ, et al can actually recognize their own experiences is going to take a massive hit from this, and while that's surely trivial compared to everything else that's about to happen, it's still something I'll mourn. (One of many things).

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I've definitely been thinking about this post, this review, and this comment today. The fact is that, for all the terrible events of this past year, I've been walking around with a general feeling of hopefulness, because I believed that this election, at least, would turn out well, and because I had a more general belief that our culture was undergoing a change, the most obvious expression of which was pop culture. And as you say, it seems impossible to tell stories like that under a Trump presidency. Suddenly the stories we need feel harsh and angry, and I'm not sure that our pop culture is equipped to deliver them. As I've been saying for a while, look at the superhero genre, which for all its pretensions to hopefulness ultimately tends to validate an authoritarian, violent worldview. Is there anyone making those stories with the courage to tell one in which Captain America, for example, sets himself against a man like Trump and the forces he represents? I really doubt it.

Chris said...

Ditto. Brexit or not, all the polls (henceforth reliable ones) indicated that the U.S. would at least be a silver lining in the year 2016. I had some hope from the fact that there's a much larger nonwhite population here than in many other Western nations to fight back at the polls. Which gave me at least some hope, selfishly, because it's where I live, and more strategically, because if some countries in the West are going to succumb to the fascism storm, it'd be nice to think that at least *the* most powerful one of them would be secure.

I can also relate to the notes in your Twitter feed over on the right about picking other countries as "where you run to" in worst case scenarios. But as I noted last week, the past eight years have disabused me pretty hard of the notion that any place will be safe for long. Or at least, I have no idea what that place would be. I don't think there's any place that isn't vulnerable to the bug. It's going to be even more of a problem if united Europe and the western alliance system continue to fray.

Chris said...

As for comics, I think you can maybe expect something like that. Cap historically goes rogue during major right wing presidencies (Nixon, Reagan, and however clumsily, Dubya) - it goes along with his being a New Deal liberal and representing the best of America. But honestly, I wonder just how much longer the dissonance between the American ideal he's supposed to represent and the reality of America in the age of Trump can hold.

gareth-wilson said...

Almost all the American pop culture I've read or watched in the past year or so has been heavy-handedly pushing diversity and tolerance and open-mindedness. Good for them, but I hope they didn't expect to have any effect on the real world. Given what actually happened, it could have all been "Red Skull, the College Years" for all the good it did.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Chris:

Specifically when it comes to Captain America, Marvel's in a bit of a jam at the moment, because I believe that he is still a Nazi. And an "economic anxiety" Nazi to boot - if I didn't already loathe this storyline, the way it normalizes the perception that people support authoritarianism out of economic need, not because they genuinely want someone whose face they can grind into the dirt, would put me over the top.

Chris said...

I'd actually forgotten that.

Yes, the "it's just a cry for help from white working class people" narrative is out in force as the narrative of this election (ignoring the demographics of Trump supporters, the actual statements of Trump and Trump's supporters, and, well, everything). Worse, it's loudly bipartisan. And the Cap comic will very much stand as a testament to the spirit of the times.

I'd like to think that Marvel will move on after it's done, because the fan consensus seems to be that it's a shitty comic all around. Also, I can't imagine that when Trump actually starts governing (if you can call it that), you won't get more Cap comics that are in response to that - hopefully, less clumsily than in the Bush years. I actually thought the "Sam Wilson Captain America" comic was very, very well done as a commentary on the Obama years. More of that, please.

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