8/4/08

"The Taming of the Shrew" (2005)

Shakespeare-Told Taming of the Shrew
Shirley Henderson (Katherine), Rufus Sewell (Petruchio), Jaime Murray (Bianca), Twiggy (Mrs. Minola)

Directed by David Richards

IMDB: A young harridan MP marries a title in order to advance towards her goal of becoming party leader. Another from the BBC's "Shakespeare-Told" series.

I have an abiding weakness for the comic stylings of Shirley Henderson. She is marvelous, like some sort of sweet, crazy, vulnerable, feral animal. Her performance opposite Matthew Macfadyen in "The Way We Live Now" saved that miniseries from its own high brow boredom. This scene in the lift made me laugh out loud. Brilliant stuff. And I can see why some women go all gooey for Rufus. Very nice.


As with "Much Ado about Nothing," the dialogue has been modernized but retains the comic wit and sharpness of Shakespeare's original. Screenwriter Peter Moffat--is he related to Steven Moffat of "Doctor Who" fame?--did more, however, than merely update the dialogue. The problem I've always had with Shakespeare's play is Kate's humiliation and subjugation. She is literally tamed. The process is not pretty, and the outcome always made me a bit squeamish. We're really supposed to encourage this? It's like boot camp for wives, meant to dehumanize and bring about complete obedience.

That's a tricky thing to tackle for a modern audience. Moffat kept some of the original references to the moon being the sun, but it was done tongue-in-cheek. Petruchio is portrayed as having as many issues as Katherine, in that he cannot control his anger, he's an exhibitionist with cross-dressing tendencies, and he desperately needs someone to adore him.

So the taming goes both ways. During the finale, the test of wifely obedience comes down to the very modern issue of a prenuptial agreement. Katherine insists that if a woman truly loves the man she wants to marry, and vice versa, a prenup isn't necessary. She says it is a woman's place to lay down at her husband's feet, if he wishes it, but that it's his duty to do the same in return--so neither would ever ask. They find happiness in mutual submission, with no sacrifice of agency and power. A tricky line walked with expert skill.

But stay for the chock-a-block laughs. I'm truly enjoying these adaptations. Next up: "Macbeth" with James McAvoy and Richard Armitage. Rwr.

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