The Merry Wives of Windsor (1982)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Errors  |   Run Time - 167 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom, United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mike Cummings

+The Merry Wives of Windsor ranks among Shakespeare's lesser plays because it relies as much on slapstick and buffoonery for its effect as on wit and insight. In this respect, the play resembles an American television staple, the situation comedy. It even has the types of characters that appear in American TV sitcoms -- everyday middle-class folks. There are no kings and queens, no dukes and duchesses, no earls and barons. Ironically, Queen Elizabeth I prompted Shakespeare to write the play, according to well-documented evidence. Supposedly, she so enjoyed the comic shenanigans of fat John Falstaff in +Henry VI, that she wanted to see more of him. In this 1982 BBC adaptation of the play, veteran Shakespearean actor Richard Griffiths portrays Falstaff. With his great round belly and resonant voice, he certainly looks and sounds the part as he attempts to con the "merry wives" -- Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford -- but ends up becoming the butt of their tricks. But something is missing from his performance. Call it charisma or stage presence or esprit, but whatever it is, he doesn't have it. But Griffiths is only partly to blame for this production's lackluster Falstaff. Also to blame are a boring mise-en-scéne, and Shakespearean dialogue short on the searing wit evident in other Shakespeare plays. The other actors perform with yeomanly skill and animation, in particular Ben Kingsley as Frank Ford,Judy Davis as Alice Ford, Prunella Scales as Margaret Page, Elizabeth Spriggs as Mistress Quickly, and Michael Graham Cox as the inn host. Overall, the production is mildly amusing, but certainly not in a class with Franco Zeffirelli's production of another Shakespeare farce, +The Taming of the Shrew, or Kenneth Branagh's production of Shakespeare's comedy +Much Ado About Nothing.