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Two Gentlemen of Verona, The (1983)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Two Gentlemen of Verona, The (1983)
For the BBC Television Shakespeare, tx. 27/12/1983, colour, 136 mins
DirectorDon Taylor
Production CompaniesBBC Television, Time-Life Television
ProducerShaun Sutton
Script EditorDavid Snodin
DesignerBarbara Gosnold
MusicAnthony Rooley, The Consort Of Musicke

Cast: Tyler Butterworth (Proteus), John Hudson (Valentine), Tessa Peake-Jones (Julia), Michael Byrne (Antonio), John Woodnutt (Panthino), Tony Haygarth (Launce)

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The romantic complications of various residents of Renaissance Italy, notably the two young gentlemen Proteus and Valentine.

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One of Shakespeare's least-performed plays, The Two Gentlemen of Verona has been adapted just once for television, unsurprisingly as part of the BBC Television Shakespeare cycle. Presumably assuming that this would remain the case indefinitely and that audiences would most likely be wholly unfamiliar with it, director Don Taylor wisely opted for a straightforward, no-frills presentation of the text. It's broadly realistic in treatment, despite Barbara Gosnold's stylised Renaissance settings (including a deliberately unrealistic forest) and occasional interventions from gilded cherubs in what Taylor conceived as a 'Garden of Courtly Love' in which the various lovers could have their trysts.

The two gentlemen of the title are neatly contrasted both in appearance and manner. The blond Proteus (Tyler Butterworth) is the more flamboyant of the duo, and the more prone to acting on impulse, while the dark-haired Valentine (John Hudson) is more thoughtful and reflective. This doesn't make the notorious scene where Valentine forgives Proteus for attempting to rape his beloved Silvia much more convincing to present-day audiences, but it does at least supply a token element of psychological realism to one of Shakespeare's most notoriously problematic scenes: Valentine immediately recognises both that Proteus has been living a fantasy and, crucially, that even the merest injection of reality has caused it to collapse irrevocably, rendering him 'harmless'.

The supporting cast is equally impressive, especially Joanne Pearce (Silvia) and Tessa Peake-Jones (Julia), the latter contributing a poignant study in emotional turmoil. Unsurprisingly, in a role originally played by legendary Elizabethan comic Will Kemp, Tony Haygarth's Launce garners most of the laughs, either in partnership with his dog Crab or in conversation with Speed, unconventionally cast here as a precocious boy (Nicholas Kaby). Paul Daneman's Duke Senior is rather more knowing than the text implies, seemingly aware that his daughter Silvia's would-be suitor Thurio (David Collings) is a foppish fool, but content to bless the union nonetheless. The band of forest outlaws is resolutely unthreatening, though there's every likelihood that this was Shakespeare's intention.

Musically, this is one of the more adventurous BBC Shakespeare productions, with early music pioneer Anthony Rooley's arrangements of works by a wide range of the playwright's musical contemporaries - the vast majority of them English, belying the play's Italian setting. A well-timed onscreen performance of one of John Dowland's 'Lachrimae' by Rooley's Consort of Musicke is particularly effective.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. The marks of love (3:31)
2. Proteus' thaw'd love (1:38)
3. A dog in all things (2:04)
4. Proteus' treachery (4:42)
Sutton, Shaun (1919-2004)
BBC Television Shakespeare, The (1978-1985)
The Two Gentlemen of Verona On Screen