Twelfth Night - isn't that a play by Shakespeare? Well, yes - and in 1996 director Trevor Nunn made a movie out of it which is great fun to watch, and even more fun to shake your head over. This is one of Shakespeare's "twin" comedies: it starts with a great shipwreck in which twin brother and sister Sebastian and Viola are separately cast ashore in "Illyria", and each thinks the other is dead. I won't go into the plot any deeper; you can always look it up in Cliff Notes if you haven't got time to read the play.
I owe them an apology about the shipwreck, though. When we were watching, I though, Oh, God, they've seen Titanic: but they hadn't. This movie came out the year before Titanic. Maybe James Cameron had seen this one...
The most delightful thing about it is how astoundingly alike Sebastian and Viola are. Because this is also a "breeches" comedy, Viola decides to survive after the shipwreck by gluing on a mustache and dressing as a young man, whom she calls Cesario. Late in the show, of course, Viola/Cesario and Sebastian meet again, dressed exactly alike, almost the same height, both wearing the little blond mustache, and while you can tell them apart if you've been watching, you really have to look twice. I wonder whom they found first, Sebastian or Viola?
Shakespeare didn't, of course, have to worry about these issues, because his "actresses" were young men; but I did wonder how Cesario managed, for three whole months, never to get caught where she had to explain why she couldn't pee into the bushes like all the guys. Especially since she becomes Duke Orsino's good buddy and drinking companion, spending most of her time listening to Orsino whine about why he's dying of love because Olivia won't have him, and how men's love is more important than women's because women aren't capable of passion.
Orsino is a Victorian (originally Elizabethan) male chauvinist ess-oh-bee; however, Viola falls for him, and is therefore pining for him while he pines for Olivia. Isn't chemistry great? It gets better when Olivia falls for Cesario/Viola. The poleaxed look on Olivia's face, late in the movie when she sees Sebastian and Cesario together, having just married Sebastian thinking he was Cesario, is worth any price of admission - it's just wonderful. She can't tell them apart either. Helena Bonham Carter is a really fine Olivia.
It never seems to occur to anybody that Cesario's tight black uniform pants are on a behind that isn't, well, shaped like a normal guy's - it's the one part of the female anatomy that you really can't hide when dressing like a man, especially a late Victorian military man. (Null has set it around 1885-1890.) She does have a very small tush, but still.
And in three months she has to have had three periods - how do you hide that when you're faking being a man? This is why you have to suspend your disbelief at the theater, I guess. I suppose if none of the servants ever notices that she peels her mustache off at night and sticks it on the mirror, they'll slide right past anything else. Actress Imogen Stubbs makes a wonderful Cesario, though - half the time you look at her and catch yourself thinking, what a handsome young man.
Shakespeare would have liked this, I think; it's the way he would have done it himself if he'd had the resources.