Director: Don Taylor
Writer: William Shakespeare
by Jon Cvack
Two Gentleman of Verona was the first BBC film from its famous Shakespeare series I checked out as it didn’t have a modern film adaptation worth seeing. Regardless of how others view it as inferior to his other comedies, I’d say it’s in my top three, serving as a great examination of friendship. Actor Alex Avery said about the play, "The love between two men is a greater love for some reason. There seems to be a sense that the function of a male/female relationship is purely for the family and to procreate, to have a family. But a love between two men is something that you choose. You have arranged marriages, [but] a friendship between two men is created by the desires and wills of those two men, whereas a relationship between a man and a girl is actually constructed completely peripheral to whatever the feelings of the said boy and girl are.”
The story of two friends fighting over the same woman is a tale, well, as old as Shakespeare, and I’m sure even older than that considering he drew on inspiration from The Seven Books of the Diana by Jorge de Montemayor (I’m learning most of this from the both Norton Edition and Wikipedia). Specifically intriguing is the idea that Silvia could dress herself up like a boy and actually pull it off - a common theme I’m discovering in the Comedies and remain surprised every time it works out. I’m sure it was easier in the days when all of the parts were played by men, and I understand that it’s funny, I just don’t get the need for any of it. More often than not it pulls me out, for the same reason Superman never worked me. Every time I can’t help but think, “Really? You put your hair up and wear some man clothes and your lover can’t tell the difference?” The Merchant of Venice kind of makes sense since Shylock never knew who Portia actually was. I’m a bit less forgiving of Rosalind in As You Like It when Orlando meets her, though I suppose they weren’t all that close to begin with. Silvia as Sebastian just doesn’t make sense. Maybe, like most comedy, it was a generational thing, expanding across an entire lifetime.
Of course, the big criticism is the rape, when Silivia is discovered in the woods by Proteus who now has joined up as leader of a band of outlaws. The play goes from a 10 mph farce to 60 mph serious in about three seconds. Valentine jumps in, and after a lengthy argument, the two reconcile. Proteus is reunited with Julia and Valentine with Silvia. It’s a story of betrayal, uncontrollable lust, and wit and I can’t believe that given the timeless exploration of friendship that it has never been adapted for the screen except for a loose version in 1931 silent version called A Spray of Plum Blossoms directed by Bu Wancang, which I’ll have to check out since it sounds pretty badass.
The BBC Version isn’t horrible. The set is cheap, but compliments the comedic approach. Allegedly it was suppose to be shot in a more realistic fashion (i.e., BBC’s All’s Well or As You Like It), but was changed by director Don Taylor at the last minute. Thus we get a very 80s looking rendition of the play.
My beloved Dawson's Creek actually did a loose adaptation called "Two Gentlemen of Capeside", which I’ll have to rewatch, involving a massive rainstorm that nearly kills Pacey and Jen. In the opening scene, during English class, Joey believes Valentine is a “cardboard cut out hero” and Proteus is “unfairly painted as a villain.” But Dawson disagrees, he doesn’t see it as a story of a girl coming between two guys, but about the friendship of two guys. Dawson thinks that Proteus is a lousy friend who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice by giving up the girl.
Now for those who don’t know Dawson lost Joey to his best friend Pacey. After ten years of friendship they now no longer talk to one another. I’ve forgotten that this is one of my favorite episodes, where Pacey brings tears to my eyes as he tries to apologize to Dawson after thanking him for saving his life during a storm that is the worst seen in 30 years and for some reason is completely gone by the time the four return with Pacey and Jen. You see, it was suppose to be a beautiful day, but the Farmer's Almanac predicted rain. Pacey wanted to go out sailing, but during the opening scene, as Joey and Dawson debate the merits of Two Gentlemen of Verona, they’re then assigned a debate project, due the next day. Pacey instead takes Jen sailing, while Dawson and Joey work at the restaurant. The rain storm hits, and Dawon heads out, knowing exactly where Pacey is because of a cove they once got stuck in as kids. It’s all very similar to TGV. Eerily similar. Valentine is Dawson, and Proteus is Pacey - the man who went off into Nature, in need of rescue, which then makes Jen Julia, which doesn’t make sense because if Proteus is Pacey then he can’t be with Joey, because that would mean Dawson as Valentine would get the girl. It’s all very confusing. But as Dawson’s amazing father says at the end, “Just doesn’t seem fair, does it? You save the day, you still don’t get the girl.” Strange to think that "Two Gentlemen of Capeside" is far more tragic. Who would have thought Shakespeare would bring me back to the Creek?
And what the fuck is the teacher talking about the play being “arguably Shakespeares worst comedy.” TGV is flawed, but it’s a different and an interesting tale.
BELOW: "Two Gentlemen of Capeside" - enjoy, feel nostalgic...
Thoughts on films, old and new
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