If you like your Shakespeare straight up, try this comedy of mistaken identity. The verse is well-spoken by an English cast under the direction of Trevor Nunn, who formerly ran the Royal Shakespeare Company. But be warned. For an antic farce about a shipwrecked girl, Viola (Imogen Stubbs), who disguises herself as a boy, Cesario, and falls in love with a duke, Orsino (Toby Stephens), who loves a countess, Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter), who loves Cesario, not knowing that he is a she, Twelfth Night is surprisingly stodgy stuff. Bonham Carter and Stubbs, who looks fetching in a mustache, find raffish fun in the gender bending, and Stephens, the son of Maggie Smith, has real star shine. But Nunn's cautious approach leaves such fine actors as Ben Kingsley and Nigel Hawthorne straining for laughs. Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet may go too far in adapting the Bard for film. But Nunn's error with this comedy is worse: He keeps the lid on.
From The Archives Issue 747: November 14, 1996