Skip to main content

Director Explains the New Cymbeline Movie's Setting and Focus

Michael Almereyda, Dakota Johnson, and
Penn Badgley during the filming of Cymbeline.
In an interview with HitFix, the director Michael Almereyda explains the focus and contemporary American setting of his Cymbeline movie (which we can now rent on Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play):
HitFix: Why did you decide to adapt “Cymbeline” and set it in this world of biker gangs and drug dealers and dirty cops? 
Michael Almereyda: It’s a wonderful play. It’s magical. It has great scenes and characters. I was aware that there hadn’t been a movie made from “Cymbeline,” and it felt like an opportunity to start from scratch and to do something fresh. [A biker gang] seemed like a fair equivalent to the tribal pagan societies and alliances that Shakespeare used as a background for “Cymbeline.” And it really is a framework. The movie isn’t really about biker gangs so much as it’s about a family and broken trust. It’s a kind of a blighted love story, and almost every man in the story has some imbalanced relationship with a woman. And that intrigued me. It seemed, in some ways, a very modern set of relationships. While Ethan was doing the TV commentary with me he said it’s kind of like a Neil LaBute play. So there’s an element of – it’s not misogynistic but it’s exploring misogyny. It’s exploring the way men can mistrust women and try to control them. In the center of it, though, is a very strong woman character [Imogen] who’s not really a victim. She transcends her role and she’s just a kind of force within the story, and that drew me in too.
 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“Cymbeline” is packed with a slew of tones and different types of stories. It’s difficult to classify – there’s both comedy and tragedy. Some of it feels like fantasy, and other parts are more real-world, political intrigue. How did you approach juggling all those tones and creating one cohesive film? 
Almereyda: One trick was to unify the timeframes. In the play there are three different timeframes. I unified it and generalized it by setting it in America. It became a willfully American version with American characters and an American subtext. You know the play is about the forming of the British Empire. [At the time “Cymbeline” was written] King James had just risen to the throne, and Shakespeare in some ways was reflecting that even though he’s talking about the deep past. He was acknowledging the recent ascension of King James, and all of that didn’t seem relevant to me. It wasn’t my concern. So the script became more focused on the relationships between men and women and less about empire and about warfare. And so it’s a distilled version of “Cymbeline.” It’s more focused. The play is not a tragedy, and it’s not quite a comedy, but it has streaks of comedy, and it does have wild tone swings, which in some ways makes it modern to me. But it can be confusing to people. We try to acknowledge the variety of mood swings and the preposterousness, the fun of it, the playfulness and also the depth of it because a lot of the characters get unhinged and go in dark directions and get submerged into jealousy and bitter crazy feelings. I wanted to respect the urgency of those emotions and get actors who could handle them. 
For the Cymbeline trailer—and my analysis of it—click here.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Accurate List of Hamlet's Soliloquies

Though Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech is his fourth soliloquy, many websites call it his third. They're skipping the twenty-line speech that follows his interview with the Ghost, which in my view is a particularly bad mistake since Hamlet's monomaniacal vow there is at the heart of his tragedy. The internet's cosmic sinkhole of misinformation will never be filled, but it's worth throwing some dirt in when we can, so here's an accurate list of Hamlet's soliloquies, with a short description of where they occur and what they say, along with a few observations.

"To Be or Not to Be" Smackdown

Who does it best?  Branagh: Gibson: Hawke: Olivier: For a smackdown between actors performing Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene, click here .

The First Soliloquy in Ian McKellen's Richard III

Ian McKellen begins his 1995 film of Richard III with the Lancasters' defeat and the murder of Prince Edward and his father Henry VI. After an opening title, we see the Yorks celebrating their victory: talking, laughing, dancing, and listening to Stacey Kent  singing Christopher Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd to His Love." As Kent finishes the song, we hear a squawk from another microphone as Richard prepares to speak. He delivers the first couplet—"Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York"—and looks at his brother Edward. The crowd laughs at his wit and applauds his subsequent, triumphant lines. The mood changes when he says, "Grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front" (9). The camera moves closer to his own visage, focusing on his teeth as he talks of frightening his adversaries' souls.