The first trailer for a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, starring Ethan Hawke and Dakota Johnson, has arrived and it claims the play is Shakespeare’s “undiscovered masterpiece”. Though the date of its writing is unknown, a performance of Cymbeline was noted in 1611, and in every century since then it has been reprinted, staged, adapted, and analyzed. The BBC did a television adaptation in the 1980s—which I remember watching in school—and Virginia Woolf quotes lines from the play in Mrs. Dalloway. But sure, you’re totally the first people to “discover” Cymbeline.
This trailer looks like a de-color-saturated version of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet. It’s a modern retelling of warring families with young lovers caught in the middle, but instead of business empires, they’re all in gangs. To an extent, the similarities can’t be helped. Cymbeline has strong echoes of Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, which is probably intentional, but it’s also a big part of why it’s not often produced—there are other, better plays that deal with the same themes. I’m not super into this gunned-up crime version, but for one thing: Imogen.
Read one way, Imogen is a malleable lump of dough who gets pushed around and manipulated and whose only claim to fame is being so beautiful that everyone who sees her falls in love with her—even when she’s dressed as a boy. But read another way, she’s one of Shakespeare’s canniest heroines, strong enough to defy her domineering father, and smart enough to play off people’s expectations and assume whatever role she needs to in order to survive. I’ve always preferred the wilier reading of Imogen, seeing her as a mix of the best parts of Cordelia and Viola. Dakota Johnson plays her in the movie, and if she can turn Anastasia Steele into a heroine worth caring about, I hope she can do the same for Imogen.
Attached - Dakota Johnson leaving her New York hotel yesterday.