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.

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