Friday, October 14, 2005

A Director to Adapt Each of Shakespeare's Plays #13 -- KING JOHN directed by Mike Leigh

The Plot:

It’s England squaring off against France again and yet again, there’s a question about the legitimacy of the current king. You see, really the king should be young Arthur, but he’s just a boy; so John sits on the throne strictly because the previous king willed it so. But not everyone’s satisfied because John’s a bastard. Not literally. But in the sense that he arranges a hit on the biggest threat to his reign, young Arthur. Arthur sniffs out the danger and takes a header off the castle wall trying to escape. After talking with some advisors, John has a change of heart and orders the assassination called off. But by this time it’s too late. Arthur’s kissing the concrete and John’s in bigger trouble than before.

Why Leigh?

Here’s another play that’s going to need quite a bit of help to reach a modern audience. Unlike the superior histories of Shakespeare, it’s difficult to tell what the overriding themes of this play are. There’s mild interest in John’s struggle to maintain his throne and how he callously handles the threats to his power, but not enough connections are made to broader themes beyond reporting a series of historical circumstances. Although Leigh is known to be a director with little attachment to text, I’m going to put this play into his hands because of his ability to put his characters under a magnifying glass and scour them for information. I’m thinking primarily of Topsy-Turvy here in which he took the beloved English song-writing team of Gilbert and Sullivan and turned them into deeply fleshed-out characters with petty needs, desires and motivations. Despite the fact that his individual scenes often seem to be only loosely connected, he's able to keep the big picture in focus and never veer too far from the essential purpose of his mission. Leigh’s would likely be a very loose adaptation, but in this case, I think that’d be OK. I’d like to get a clearer idea of the historical context of John’s reign and a more detailed picture of the man himself. I think Leigh could provide that.

Leigh films I have seen:

1. Secrets and Lies ****
2. Topsy Turvy ***1/2
3. Career Girls ***
4. Naked ***


Post a Comment

<< Home