A scheming queen, a heroine who disguises herself as a boy, a potion that gives the illusion of death — it’s all there in Cymbeline, the misunderstood schoolchild of Shakespeare’s plays, the one even avowed lovers of the Bard are least likely to
But veteran indie filmmaker Michael Almereyda — best known for his bold and glittering 2000 Hamlet — clearly has deep feeling for this challenging late-career drama.
His Cymbeline takes place, as his Hamlet did, in the present: Dakota Johnson is Imogen, a defiant teenage princess in a tank-top and cutoffs, who has pledged her heart to Penn Badgley’s
Posthumus, a lad of humble origins who gets from here to there on his skateboard. The course of true love is predictably bumpy, with
a tiara-wearing queen (Milla Jovovich), a motorcycle-riding king (Ed Harris), and a suave, scheming pal (Ethan Hawke) all throwing up roadblocks along the way.
This Cymbeline moves fast, and it can be a challenge to keep up, given the story’s mercurial tone shifts: It
unfolds like a tragedy, gradually shedding all its armor until it winds up, naked and a little crazy, as something of a comedy. But all this madness has a purpose, as Almereyda shows us. With its shootouts, its subcurrents of tenderness and eroticism, its trick-or-treat mischief-making (skull masks, Halloween pumpkins, and a silvery tumble of Hershey’s Kisses all figure into the visual scheme), this Cymbeline is brash and inventive and more than a little wild. Perhaps we’ve been wrong about this play all along.