Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

We watched The Winter’s Tale on a Saturday evening in March. I am writing this blog up on a snowy day in April. The version we watched was the one Jonathan Miller produced for the BBC in 1981. I remember going to a lecture he gave in Cambridge in the early 1980s – at that time he was regularly on television, often described as a “renaissance man”.

The staging of this production is a long way from the Globe. The BFI’s review describes it as “one of the most daringly stylised productions of the entire project, its stripped-down approach to design and staging working particularly well on television.” It wasn’t a play that either of us knew. There are lots of fur and thick costumes in this production, while the changing seasons are marked by minor changes to the colour of the set and the lighting.

It is a very serious production. Others have described it as “dull”. A lot of speeches to the camera, and not a lot of laughs. Jeremy Kemp plays Leontes – apparently he played a lot of “second male leads” in the 1970s and early 80s, but I can’t say I remember him. Anna Calder-Marshall was his wife Hermione, and he really does not trust her. None of the others, Polixenes (played by Robert Stephens) or Paulina (Margaret Tyzack), are able to get him to see sense.

The second half is more cheerful with, to quote the BFI a “joyously bucolic celebration of spring, and a delicious cameo by Scottish comedian Rikki Fulton, whose roguish Autolycus frequently involves the audience in his conspiratorial asides as he plots to relieve yet another hapless victim of his possessions.”

It was probably written in 1610 or 1611, and published in the First Folio of 1623. We have the DVD of a Globe Production and the box for the DVD that was shot of the Durham Shakespeare Company’s production in 2007. Hannah was in this production, and it is probably her who has lost the DVD!

“Exit, pursued by a bear” is the most famous line in the play. The bear does make an appearance in this version. Mamillius warns that “a sad tale’s best for winter”, and it was good to watch this while wrapped up warm on the sofa.

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