A Midsummer Night's Dream

USA/Germany 1999

Reviewed by Leslie Felperin


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Monte Athena, Italy, the 1890s. Duke Theseus is asked to adjudicate a complaint brought by Egeus: his daughter Helena refuses to marry Demetrius, Egeus' preferred suitor, and insists on marrying Lysander. Theseus tells Helena she must either obey or become a nun by his own wedding day. Helena and Lysander decide to elope. They are pursued into the woods by Helena's friend Hermia, who is in love with Demetrius despite his indifference, and Demetrius himself. Meanwhile, some amateur actors rehearse Pyramus and Thisbe. The weaver Bottom will play Pyramus.

In the woods, Oberon, the king of the fairies, is having an argument with his queen, Titania. To humiliate Titania, Oberon charges his minion Puck to anoint her eyes with a love potion that will cause her to fall in love with the first creature she sees when she wakes up; this turns out to be Bottom, whom Puck also turns into an ass. Chancing upon the mortal foursome in the woods, Oberon instructs Puck to use the same love juice on Demetrius, but Puck mistakenly bewitches Lysander instead who awakes and falls in love with Hermia. Trying to correct the problem, Demetrius is also made to fall in love with Hermia. Eventually Puck sorts things out so that Lysander is in love with Helena and Demetrius with Hermia. Bottom awakes returned to mortal form after his night of passion with Titania. Back in Monte Athena, Egeus relents and lets Helena choose her mate. Pyramus and Thisbe is performed before the Duke and his bride Hippolyta, the four lovers and the court.


Decrying the deployment of operatic spectacle in Georgian productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Hazlitt once wrote, "That which is merely an airy shape, a dream, a passing thought, immediately becomes an unmanageable reality." And indeed, this play above all of Shakespeare's others, for all its fey charm and the witty delicacy of its verse, lends itself to pageantry and tricks. All those fairy costumes to make! Peter Brook's famous 1970 staging of the play, with its bare, white set and caftan-clad cast, attempted to strip the text back to the bone. The patrician Hazlitt would have approved. He'd probably have been suspicious of this latest film version's use of twinkling digital effects and lurex-and-lamé encrusted production design, although its frothy, nineteenth-century jeu d'esprit would probably seem more familiar to him than Brook's cerebral, Beckettian, Age of Aquarius workout.

Sporting a shamelessly commercial all-star cast and textually shorn to make a comfortable, diverting two-hour flick, it's the lack of intellectual pretensions that finally makes this version so endearing. Director Michael Hoffman is best known for the playful period film Restoration, based on the novel by Rose Tremain, and the romantic comedy One Fine Day - a perfect track record for juggling Midsummer's upscale literary pedigree with its screwball knockabout. Just to drive home the source material's relevance to the quixotic, irrational perils of single life, Hoffman has cast Calista Flockhart as Hermia, one of the hapless, foolish lovers. Clad here as 1890s 'modern woman' with daring pantaloons and a (scandalously anachronistic) bicycle, her neurotic persona from Ally McBeal dovetails nicely with Hermia's whiny, desperate pursuit of Demetrius, and her verse delivery is impeccable. Sadly, the same can't be said for Michelle Pfeiffer (supposedly Ally McBeal's real-life model), whose Titania is more wood than wood sprite.

With such a well-known play, viewers familiar with the work are invited to assess the production on how well cast and executed the performances are. Hoffman's quartet of bickering lovers, eventually reduced to ungainly mud-wrestling, are all cohesive and excellent, though Kevin Kline's Bottom (indeed most of his anatomy) is annoyingly preening here, smug in its blithe competence and straining too hard for sympathy.

An ambitious and logical crack is taken at playing the story's two realms - real-world 'Monte Athena' (the version's no-good-reason substitute for the original's Athens) versus the fairy grove - in two different registers, the first grounded in Italian real locations, the second shot on the Cinecittà sound stages, enhancing it's theatrical quality and making it likeably reminiscent of Wilhelm Dieterle's beguiling, nitrate-rich monochrome 1935 film version (famous for starring James Cagney, Mickey Rooney and, in a tiny part, Kenneth Anger). Despite Hazlitt, the artificial glamour of the set makes this Midsummer's reality all the more manageable.


Leslie Urdang
Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman
Based on the play by
William Shakespeare
Director of Photography
Oliver Stapleton
Garth Craven
Production Designer
Luciana Arrighi
Simon Boswell
©Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Monarchy Enterprises B.V. and Regency Entertainment (USA.), Inc
Production Companies
A Fox Searchlight Pictures and Regency Enterprises presentation
In association with Taurus Film
Executive Producer
Arnon Milchan
Ann Wingate
Associate Producer
Nigel Goldsack
Production Co-ordinators
Eléna Zokas
Mona Bernal
Production Services
Panorama Films S.R.L.
Production Manager
Fabiomassimo Dell'Orco
Location Managers
Francesco Marras
2nd Unit:
Francesca Cingolani
Post-production Supervisor
Nicole N. Bugna
London Liaison
Vicki Manning
2nd Unit Director
Garth Craven
Assistant Directors
Gerry Gavigan
Inti Carboni
Paul Taylor
Manolita Cipparrone
Paolo Merosi
Simon Emanuel
2nd Unit:
Sergio Ercolessi
Script Supervisor
Rachel Bryceson Griffiths
Lora Kennedy
Kristy Sager
Shaila Rubin
Maria Rosari Caracciolo Di Torchiarolo
Barbara Harris
2nd Unit Cameraman/Operator
Ian McMillan
Camera Operators
Mike Proudfoot
2nd Unit:
Marcello Montarsi
Steadicam Operator
2nd Unit:
Marco Pieroni
Visual Effects
Rich Thorne
Sharon Holly
Plate Photographer:
Allen Blaisdell
Digital Visual Effects
Digital FilmWorks Inc
Digital Effects Supervisor:
Peter W. Moyer
Digital Effects Producer:
C. Paul Bolger Jr
Production Manager:
Alison Rein
Lead 3D Artist:
Edward J. Quirk
Lead 2D Artists:
Marco S. Paolini
Christopher Leone
Film Recording/Scanning:
Tommy Tran
Gilbert De La Garza
Special Effects Supervisor
Antonio Corridori
Special Effects
Renato Agostini
Daniel Acon
Danilo Bollettini
Gastone Callori
Marco Corridori
Supervising Art Director
Gianni Giovagnoni
Art Directors
Maria Teresa Barbasso
Andrea Gaeta
Set Decorator
Ian Whittaker
Specialist Painter
Chris Rudd
Lucio Di Domenico
Nazzareno Piana
Fabio Grimaldi
Storyboard Artist
Paolo Morales
Galliano Donati
Costume Designers
Gabriella Pescucci
Carlo Poggioli
Costume Supervisors
Alfredo Bocci
Adriana Mattiozzi
Paul Engelen
Ronnie Specter
Trefor Proud
Linda Armstrong
Body Artist:
Jene Fielder
Jo Allen
Belinda Hodson
Melissa Lackersteen
Karina Morrison
Alfredo Tiberi
Claudia Schöne
Prosthetic Make-up
Chief Artist:
David White
Julie Wright
Duncan Jarman
Hair Designer
Carol Hemming
Betty Glasow
Catherine Le Blanc
Christine Leasutic
Carla Indoni
Marina Marin
Jacqueline Stuffel
Geoffrey Haines
Main Titles Animation
Banned From The Ranch Entertainment
Scarlet Letters
Pacific Title/Mirage
Score Conductor/Orchestrations
Terry Davies
Orchestral Leaders
Gavyn Wright
Rolf Wilson
Music Supervisor
Robin Urdang
Music Editors
Paul Rabjohns
Robert Randles
Score Engineer/Mixer
Geoff Foster
incidental music from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Felix Mendelssohn, performed by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, conductor: Vladimir Ashkenazy; "Brindisi" from the opera "La traviata" by Giuseppe Verdi, performed by Renée Fleming & Marcello Giordani, conductor: Terry Davies, with the London Voices, directed by Terry Edwards; "Una furtiva lagrima" from the opera "L'elisir d'amore" by Gaetano Donizetti, performed by Roberto Alagna, Orchestre National de l'Opéra de Lyon, conducted by Evelino Pidò; "Casta diva" from the opera "Norma" by Vincenzo Bellini, performed by Renée Fleming & Marcello Giordani, conductor: Terry Davies, with the London Voices, directed by Terry Edwards; "Non più mesta" from the opera "La Cenerentola" by Gioacchino Rossini, performed by Cecilia Bartoli, with the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, conductor: Riccardo Chailly; "Wedding March" from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Felix Mendelssohn, performed by The Boston Symphony Orchestra, conductor: Seiji Ozawa
Sound Mixer
Petur Hliddal
Re-recording Mixers
Tom Johnson
Lora Hirschberg
Ronald G. Roumas
W. Phillip Rogers
Supervising Sound Editor
Frank Eulner
Supervising Dialogue Editor
Gwendolyn Whittle Yates
Dialogue Editor
Sara Bolder
Sound Effects Editor
Ethan Van der Ryn
Dennie Thorpe
Jana Vance
Frank 'Pepe' Merel
Tony Eckert
Sandina Bailo Lape
Stunt Co-ordinator
Riccardo Mioni
Animals Supplied by
Grunwald Zoo
Dogs Supplied by
M.P. Dog-Star Srl
Animal Handler
Massimo Perla
Kevin Kline
Nick Bottom
Michelle Pfeiffer
Rupert Everett
Stanley Tucci
Calista Flockhart
Anna Friel
Christian Bale
Dominic West
David Strathairn
Sophie Marceau
Roger Rees
Peter Quince
Max Wright
Robin Starveling
Gregory Jbara
Bill Irwin
Tom Snout
Sam Rockwell
Francis Flute
Bernard Hill
John Sessions
Deirdre A. Harrison
hard-eyed fairy
Heather Elizabeth Parisi
Bottom's wife
Annalisa Cordone
Paola Pessot
Solena Nocentini
Flaminia Fegarotti
Valerio Isidori
Master Antonio
Daniele Finizio
Damiano Salvatori
dangerous boys
Chomoke Bhuiyan
changeling boy
Nathalie Van Ravenstein
Venera Torti
Luce Maioli
Xenia F. Wilson
fairy musicians
Veronica Del Chiappa
Monica La Vezzari
Cristina Guglielmino
Alessandra Monti
Anna Cirigliano
Elisabetta Carnevale
Chiara Stampone
Chiara Conti
Valentina Sciarrini
Alessandra Carbone
Paolo Risi
Davide Marotta
Sabrina Marazzi
Elisabetta La Padula
pantomime dwarves
Antonia Petrucca
Vittoria Danese
Marina Ficuciello
Marina Boccini
Roberta Galli
Anna Burt
Victoria Eugenia Martinez
female monster
Luisa Nardelli
Lucia Nardelli
Janus figures
Emanuele Gullotto
Daniele Quistelli
Carlo Vitale
Marco Rossetti
Beniamino Vitale
Gianluca Del Mastro
Stefano Cesarini
Vincenzo Dettole
Walter Maioli
Aldo Marinucci
Gaetano Delfini
Roberto Stanco
satyr musicians
Paola Murgia
Alba Tiberi
Francesco Caruso
Giuseppe Gambino
winged men
Tommaso Accardo
forge man
Cristina Mantis
Filippo Fugazzotto
goat-headed creature
Riccardo Tesi
Maurizio Geri
Luca Martini
Daniele Mencarelli
Gabriele Mirabassi
wedding musicians
Isabella Rita Gallinelli
Mauro Marino
Egyptian pharaoh
Endrius Colombaioni
fire eater
Giancarlo Colombaioni
Angela Bonello
Vincenzo Moretti
Manuela Metri
Laura Maltoni
Ester Salis
Donato Fierro-Perez
Commedia Dell'Arte troupe
Daniele Ferretti
Vito Passeri
Francesco Gabriele
Greek tragedy
Lilliana Vitale
20th Century Fox (UK)
10,845 feet
120 minutes 30 seconds
In Colour
Prints by
Anamorphic [2.35 Research]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011