Though what William Shakespeare’s greatest creation truly is will be debated on for centuries to come, Orson Welles thought it was the fictional character of Sir John Falstaff, and played the role himself in his monochromatic ode to the Bard of Avon, “Chimes at Midnight.” Shakespeare features the portly, bumptious Falstaff in three of his plays (Henry IV Pts. I & II, The Merry Wives of Windsor) as a bumbling suitor to several women and a friend and aid to young Prince Hal (who would later be Henry V).
Welles’s depiction of the story focuses on the Henry plays, and features the legendary Sir John Gielgud as Henry IV and Keith Baxter as his son Prince Hal. The ever-present Jeanne Moreau co-stars, though the focus is on Welles in the role he was perhaps always meant to play. Comparisons have been made comparing Welles to Falstaff in real life, being that they were both often in the midst of financial difficulty; used humor and wit to get themselves out of tricky situations; and despite their backhanded or listless approaches to life, maintained a merry demeanor at all times.
Taking the tribulations of an evolving England and focusing on the demise of friendship was important to Welles, and despite the comic relief, is the epicenter of the film. Decades later, the director’s instincts paid off, as his passion project is not only considered one of his finest films, but according to critic Vincent Canby, the “greatest Shakespearean film of all time.”
Now if you’ve never seen ‘Chimes,’ you’re in luck. Janus Films and The Criterion Collection are releasing a new restoration in 2016, and it will be screening at Film Forum in New York City from January 1-12, 2016. It’s a perfect present for any cinephile this upcoming season (not to mention, Welles’s beard is wildly appropriate). Take a look at the trailer below.