“Cymbeline” is perhaps the Shakespeare play that engenders the most contention–critics call it a plotty, confusing morass, while supporters rave that it should be acknowledged as one of the Bard’s great masterpieces. All of which no doubt made it an intriguing and maybe irresistible challenge for director Michael Almereyda in his sophomore attempt at updating seventeeth-century drama for the big screen.
Almereyda is best known for his 2000 adaptation of “Hamlet,” set in contemporary New York City and focusing on the intrigue-filled overtake of Denmark Corporation. That film starred Ethan Hawke as its eponymous protagonist, and the actor is back for Almereyda’s “Cymbeline,” along with a name-filled ensemble cast including Ed Harris (as Cymbeline), Penn Badgley, Milla Jovovich, Dakota Johnson and Anton Yelchin. Oh, and most importantly: the dueling Roman and Celtic nobles of Shakespeare’s original have here been reimagined as a rivalry between corrupt cops and a drug-dealing biker gang.
In a review of the film from the Venice Film Festival, Variety praised the film’s cast and its moody, atmospheric production design, while noting that the source material itself makes for a convoluted and sometimes confusing storyline. “‘Cymbeline’ is no ‘Hamlet’ when it comes to material,” wrote Peter Debruge. “Though laced with the elements of tragedy, including suicides and beheadings, the action builds to a big crescendo where all the misunderstandings are made clear — and then some — in a final scene so improbably overloaded as to seem comical.”
Lionsgate Grindstone is releasing the film, and has planned a spring 2015 debut. Check out the first trailer–full of jangly music and “Sons of Anarchy”-style getups–below.