Twelfth Night’s Film Adaptation

William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, is a 400 year old story written in 1601, and has been adapted into numerous films, with the first made in 1910, being a silent short film. One of the film adaptations I recently watched was Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night or What You Will, produced in 1996, which I found to be entertaining. The film did well in taking advantage of using a screen to project scenes from certain angles and to add effects that are not possible in a play or a script. The cast also showed they had a solid interpretation of the source material, such as actress Bonham Carter who plays Olivia is able to convey facial expressions and the many emotions of the role, such as confusion, awe and distress. However, considering the movie was made 400 years after the play, Trevor Nunn made some major changes from the original play to grab the attention of the audience.

Opening scenes

On the ship

The first major difference between the first scene of the play and the movie is that the movie starts in chronological order, while the play begins some time after Viola and Sebastian’s ship sank. The play immediately began with Orsino’s speech, and later rewinds to the sinking of the ship, which was only briefly explained verbally instead of visually. The movie, however, was able to begin with a scene of Viola and Sebastian in the ship, and gave context as to why they were on the ship. This scene was only possible through the use of a screen, and different camera angles that could depict the powerful storm that is quaking the ship, and show the exterior of the ship to show that it is raining, where as depicting rainfall in a play would be difficult.

The similarities between Viola and Sebastian

The movie also gives a good insight as to how Viola and Sebastian began and ended up to where they are. The film shows the similarities between Viola and Sebastian right off the bat, showing both of them in identical costumes, and singing together in a synchronised manner. The film takes advantage of being able to take shots from different angles, to zoom in on significant things and draw the viewers attention toward them, such as during the storm, when Viola and Sebastian were closely holding onto each other and looking at a photo of themselves and their father, which heavily implied that they share a very close bond. In a play, without the technology of being able to watch things closely, it would just look awkward and hard to understand since the viewpoint could be from any angle depending on where you’re sitting.


The film does a good job at conveying scenes and ideas in ways that a play would not be able to. A lot of the scenes and character introductions in the play tend to verbally explain things, where as the film was able to use music, camera angles and props to send a message.

For example, during the scene on the coast of Illyria when Viola was running away from the guards, Feste can be shown viewing from above, as some sort of omniscient force. He was the only character who was not fooled by Viola’s disguise, which is ironic since throughout the film he was regarded as ‘The Fool’. The camera angle can be seen behind Feste, pointing downwards, watching what is happening, similar to how we watch feeble ants on the ground moving around. Later in the film, he stares directly at the camera, breaking the fourth wall. He also plays the role of the narrator, so his role in the film is much more important than what it was in the play. Trevor Nunn cleverly uses effects such as voice overs and camera angles to convey his interpretation of the character Feste, which is someone who knows everything going on. None of this however, could be done in a play, if not, it would be difficult to do so since the audience can only watch the scene from one angle.

Feste looking down on these plebs

Another example where Nunn takes advantage of using cinematography is the implications of severe war and constant danger. The play does not emphasise the history and war in Illyria so much other than briefly mentioning it some times. The film, however, visually implies the heavy state of war happening, leaving the viewers with a sense of danger. The movie shows soldiers riding on horses and patrolling around the area for incoming enemies, while Viola is desperately trying to escape. A chase scene like this would be very difficult to do in a play, and would be uninteresting to watch without music and fast changing camera angles.

Armed soldiers patrolling the area

The film overall did a good job at interpreting the original source material. Trevor Nunn’s interpretation of the story was very deep. The plots and details did not stray too far away from the original play to feel like it was completely different, but did change enough to feel as though you’re not watching the exact same thing again. Most of the changes made were positive changes which made the scenes a lot more interesting and fleshed out a lot of the parts that the play did not explain. I believe that this movie definitely did justice to the 400 year old story.