Shakespeare : The Animated Tales

Act 2 - Julius Caesar and Twelfth Night
Metrodome DVD
(2006)

Julius Caesar

The producers of this short, cartoon version of Shakespeare's political drama clearly believe that the main themes of the play are blood and fire.

They make the most of this, using vibrant colours throughout, with the exception of the Roman people who are generally washed out.

All of the drama of the original is there, albeit at breakneck pace. Joss Ackland's Caesar may be a superstitious man, but his greed, especially for power, overcomes warnings from a sinister-looking soothsayer and his wife Calpurnia (Frances Tomelty).

The great man may have feared the thin Cassius but Caesar has made himself almost universally unpopular and, ultimately, it is Brutus who delivers the hardest cut of all.

The conspirators may believe that they have the people of Rome behind them; and when Brutus (David Robb) speaks in very short form to the people, he and his cohorts appear to have won the day.

However, it is the appearance and stirring "Friends, Romans and countrymen" speech of Mark Antony, played by Jim Carter, that turns the tables and helps Octavius to return to Rome to regain control of the imperial family.

This is a very satisfying short cartoon that nicely encapsulates the main themes of the play and may well develop a popular following amongst pre and just-teens.

Twelfth Night

This charming, pocket-sized Twelfth Night seems to be trying to break the record for the most stars that can be fitted into a film lasting under 25 minutes.

It is actually quite faithful to the original until the end, where it appears that time ran out and several plot lines are left hanging. Malvolio is last seen under a pillowcase and poor Antonio appears destined to remain in jail forever forgotten. However, there is an awful lot about this brief film that makes it worth seeing.

Initially, the narrator Rosemary Leach fills in a lot of gaps, after a beautifully conceived shipwreck.

Soon enough, we begin to meet puppet characters led by Viola or Cesario (Fiona Shaw). Having lost her brother as she fears forever, she becomes a boy and gets a job with Count Orsino (Roger Allam).

He asks his new aide to carry messages of love to Olivia (Suzanne Burden) who instantly falls for the boy/girl.

Her household is supposed to be in mourning but only a very stiff, red-headed Malvolio (Gerald James) has the right idea. Otherwise, her uncle Sir Toby Belch (Willie - masquerading as William - Rushton), his drunken friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Stephen Tomkinson) and a particularly buxom Maria (Alice Arnold) are very noisy with the help of an all too briefly seen Feste (Stefan Bednarczyk).

This is the group that eventually is the undoing of Malvolio, playing on his vanity to splendid comic effect. They also get into a splendid series of duels initially involving Sir Andrew and Viola, which eventually draws in good old Toby and to bring the film to an end, Viola's twin, Sebastian (Hugh Grant).

While it would have been nicer to have a little more time to relish the comedy, this adaptation is of high quality and provides a great deal of pretty innocent fun.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher