Of course for the winter, the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company have decided to stage one of Shakespeare’s most festive plays (only second to Twelfth Night for seasonal appropriateness). When I first learnt I was going to see their Winter’s Tale in the cinema, I immediately thought about how frequently this Shakespeare play must be put on in winter – the title makes it too tempting not too. But then I also considered how this would be not only the first time I would have gone to a live cinema screening, but also my first viewing of the play.
When reading it, this late work of the Bard’s has always been a particular favourite of mine. Perhaps it’s the fantastical world and stage magic involved; perhaps it’s that doggone bear; but I think most of all it has to do with the themes that orbit a separated family. Starting with the Leontes, the patriarch of the central family and sole cause of his household’s ruin, his descent into frenzied jealousy always struck me as strangely true. While the ‘pestilence’ Iago feeds Othello is dramatically delicious, most critics think Leontes’ suspicions as sudden and unjustified. Yet that is exactly why I think it works – the character of Leontes shows us just how dangerous our thoughts and insecurities be, turning upstanding kings into brief monsters. Then there is Hermione, who despite the trials (quite literally in fact) she goes through always remains this heroic figure to me. Maybe it’s because she never gets intimidated, or her resolution to stand her case through logic and love, either way she is a memorable character. And then there is perhaps one of my favourite final scenes in a play – the reunion. I think out of all Shakespeare’s ‘tragicomedies’, this one finds the sweetest blend of both.
Having finally seen it, I must say how satisfied I am to see such a well-crafted Victorian version of the play. Even with Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh, I had trepidation that the stage would not live up to script and that’s why it is not a popular play of the Bard’s. Of course it did meet the hype, and I’m all the more chuffed. I won’t go into much detail, but touches such as Hermione and Polixines ice skating were nice additions to the play. I do believe that I will find even better Winter’s Tales in the future (I’ll see how the Sam Wanamaker one is in March first!), but I’m glad I got one final dash of the Shakespearean Christmas spirit before I head back to the books.