Shakepeare’s Cymbeline is an incredible play, but I doubt many have read it. Even among people who know their way around a little Shakespeare action, it remains relatively obscure. It’s not too difficult to understand why. The play’s plot goes through too many complications for easy summation and cycles through tones too frequently for simple classification.
This is typical of Shakespeare’s last plays, sometimes called the Romances, sometimes called the Tragicomedies. These plays (Cymbeline, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest), tend to mix the whimsical plot devices and happy endings of the comedies with the high stakes and death of the tragedies and often feel self-aware enough to be nearly parodic. To put it in movie terms, they give us Shakespeare at his most Joel and Ethan Coen.
I love all four, but Cymbeline is especially great because it’s probably the most extreme in this regard. It plays like a checklist of Shakespearean cliches - particularly regarding Othello and Romeo & Juliet - all played against type and with different, unexpected outcomes. It’s super goofy. There are a number of disguise plots, an overly silly Italian villain, an evil queen, even Jupiter shows up for a bit. Cymbeline himself is barely a character. His war with the Romans mostly plays as a background thing.
So to see this trailer for Cymbeline’s upcoming film adaptation, with all its super cool nihilism and Ed Harris machine gun action, is truly baffling and manages to add another level to Cymbeline’s already complicated hilarity. It's perfectly fucked up, and I'm in love.
I honestly don’t see how the movie on display in this trailer will ultimately conform to the Cymbeline I know, but they seem to be following script, so I guess Michael Almereyda, the guy who directed that Ethan Hawk Hamlet that gave boners to a million English teachers almost fifteen years ago, intends to go all the way with this. Cymbeline will be a cool badass instead of a foolish old man. The queen will be a calculating femme fatale rather than a cartoon enemy whose every plan fails. Everyone’s going to be really sad and grumpy.
This is one of the least likely plays to get such an adaptation. That sends my excitement into overdrive, and I absolutely can’t wait to see this. It just has to be entertaining, one way or another.