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DVD Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968)

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One of a number of screen adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Peter Hall’s 1968 version of the venerable Shakespeare comedy was produced by The Royal Shakespeare Company and features a formidable cast of British stars. It never got a theatrical release in the United States, ending up as a TV special, which is where it’s probably most suited.

Despite its adherence to the play and a number of fine performances, this Midsummer Night’s Dream is clearly a low-budget affair and it scarcely has a cinematic bone in its body to make up for it. At times, it feels like one is watching a filmed version of a Shakespeare in the park production, with the lack of convincing sets and not quite adequate makeup to prove it.

As it is, the richness of Shakespeare’s multi-layered play is hardly diluted, with the interwoven plot threads of romantic entanglements and misunderstandings, fairy mischief and ironic playacting making for charming and engaging comedy. The nuptials of Theseus (Derek Godfrey) and Hippolyta (Barbara Jefford) in Athens set the stage for the film’s events. Meanwhile, Hermia (Helen Mirren) doesn’t want to marry her father’s choice of Demetrius (Michael Jayston) and runs away with Lysander (David Warner).

In the forest, fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania (Ian Richardson and Judi Dench) deal with their own relational issues while seeking to help the human lovers deal with their problems. But their help isn’t always so helpful, with the mischievous jester Puck (Ian Holm) responsible for much of the ensuing mayhem.

Hall respects the source material, and aside from the choice to dip all the fairies in green body paint (the discrepancies of makeup thickness between fairies is rather distracting), it’s a pretty straightforward adaptation. While I’m sure a live production starring this cast would be much more invigorating, fans of the play will likely be satisfied, if hardly overwhelmed.

The MGM Limited Edition Collection burn-on-demand disc presents the film in its original widescreen aspect ratio, not the presumably cropped version that aired on U.S. television in the late ’60s. It’s a pretty rough transfer, with heavy marking and tram lines visible in some scenes and excessive grain that looks like digital noise throughout. It’s doubtful the film will ever receive any kind of restoration, extensive or otherwise, so this is probably as good as it’s going to get. As per usual, the DVD-R disc is featureless.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.