The Merry Wives of Windsor (TV Movie 1982) Poster

(1982 TV Movie)

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a very good though not flawless production
mhk1129 August 2015
On the whole, this production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" is admirable. It contains nearly all of Shakespeare's lines (including a few insertions from the Quarto version); it includes some excellent performances; the staging is generally deft, and the atmosphere of the play is warmly engaging; and the sets are pleasing to the eye.

Prunella Scales and Judy Davis as Mistresses Page and Ford (respectively) are especially good, but nearly all the other members of the cast -- ranging from Richard Griffiths as Falstaff to Elizabeth Spriggs as Mistress Quickly -- are also highly commendable. The one exception, surprisingly, is Ben Kingsley as Ford. To be sure, anyone playing the role of Ford has to go over the top occasionally. However, Kingsley is annoyingly histrionic in the pejorative sense of the term; his high-strung mannerisms and his falsetto utterances become quite tiresome. His performance is not unalloyedly woeful, but it is well below the level of the other performances.

A few of the other reviewers on this site have criticized Richard Griffiths for his portrayal of Falstaff, but Griffiths aptly captures the nature of Falstaff in "Merry Wives" -- a play that presents Falstaff as a somewhat less shrewd character than the Falstaff of the Henry IV plays. Moreover, the girth of Griffiths made him more suitable for the role than was Anthony Quayle in the BBC's Henry IV productions (though Quayle's excellent acting compensated for his physical unsuitability).

Apart from Ben Kingsley's performance, the main objectionable feature of this otherwise admirable production is that a few scenes and smaller portions of the play are rearranged. The rearrangements aren't damaging, but they strike me as pointless. (Much the same can be said about the handful of small excisions of Shakespeare's lines.) All in all, I can recommend this production heartily to anyone who wants to experience the charms of Shakespeare's play.

ADDENDUM: Having now watched this production three more times, I feel that my remarks about Ben Kingsley's performance are too strongly negative. Most of his acting is in fact very good -- as one would expect from such a virtuoso Shakespearean thespian. Only at a few brief junctures does he become annoyingly histrionic with his high-pitched utterances or excessive gesticulations. I'll leave my original remarks unmodified, to indicate how someone might respond to Kingsley's performance after only a few viewings. However, my assessment of that performance is now significantly more favorable.
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Enjoyable farce
nqure30 January 2013
I enjoyed this 1982 BBC version, part of the BBC series of adaptations of the entire Shakespearean canon, a prototype for the modern farce. I think if you just take the play on face value, a hastily written work (prose rather than verse), its intention to entertain, displacing Falstaff from the History plays to a comic setting, then I found it watchable. There's no substitute for seeing the plays performed which is what this version does, bringing out the word play and comedy (puns,like when Brooks arrives, offering free booze to Falstaff, who quips, 'Such Brooks are welcome to me, that o'erflows with liquor').

I actually found Ben Kingsley's performance entertaining, Ford's jealous rage is supposed to be comically over the top as both he & Falstaff become the butt of the wives' comic mischief, but for different reasons. I didn't think it detracted from the play (You want OTT from Ben Kingsley? See him as the villain in 'Sexy Beast)'. The portrayal of Falstaff is problematic but that is not Richard Griffiths' fault. This is because we have seen a flawed human being in the Henry IV plays, the cause of wit and of wit in others, the father figure, who Hal seeks in flight from his own father & responsibilities, the braggart soldier yet a man who is also self-aware, the bad man we all know and love. Here in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor', he is caricatured as a lecherous old fool, who tends to use words in an exhibitionist manner.

I enjoyed all the performances, Alan Bennett a delight as Shallow, the playful wives, Judy Davis conveying the dignity and depth of Mrs Ford, the wife whose husband is consumed with jealousy & I liked the late Elizabeth Spriggs as Mistress Quickly, as well as Ron Cook as 'Simple. It was also interesting to find out that the house, its interior, was based on that of Shakespeare's own son-in-law.

It was amusing watching Shakespeare send up 'comedy accents', such as Dr Caius and Sir Hugh Evans, but I find it strange that Dr Caius's performance is the one many reviewers think stands out. Yes, it's very good, the Dr's mannerisms, the duel, his irascibility but it is comedy rooted in a stereotype,like the English RAF officer masquerading as the badly spoken French policeman in 'Allo, allo'. I think I find the relationship between Frank Ford & his long-suffering wife more interesting.

I gave this a 7 star rating (7.5 would be fairer) as I watched it with a 20 minute break but that's how one would watch a theatrical production with an interval. I thought it didn't pall at three hours.

*Fans of 'Withnail & I': Richard Griffiths went on to play Uncle Monty, but Ralph Brown, who played Danny, the drug dealer, has a minor role in 'The Merry Wives...' as one of the servants assigned to carry Falstaff away in the laundry basket.
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A Christmas Treat
brice-189 November 2005
This delightful production, crammed with good things like a Christmas pudding, was originally presented at Christmas time - and what a treat! The sets evoke Shakespeare's Stratford, and the comedy is the nearest we'll get to how life was lived in the reign of Good Queen Bess. Richard Griffiths is perfect as Falstaff, rueful and gullible compared with his prime in 'Henry IV' but still thoroughly endearing. Prunella Scales and Judy Davis (then only 27) enchant as the merry wives and Ben Kingsley, though OTT, is very funny as the jealous Ford. Michael Bryant is a choice Dr Caius, Tenniel Evans a likeably Welsh Sir Hugh, and among a splendid supporting cast I must mention Alan Bennett as Justice Shallow - not least because I played the part myself in Paris once upon a time. Of course the word-play is challenging, and Falstaff's treatment is rather cruel, but the Bard ensures that at the end the fat knight is not totally discomfited, and the show ends with a glow!
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Has some disappointments, but sumptuous with most of the actors giving good performances
TheLittleSongbird23 September 2012
I am not sure whether I'd go as far to say that this performance is a treasure, but I also don't think it is that bad either. It does have things that I think could have been done better, for example I do agree that the pacing was very slack at times and that as much as I like him Ben Kingsley was very neurotic and all over the place as Ford. The direction is inconsistent, the scenes with Mistress Page, with Mistress Ford and with Mistress Quickly are great and Falstaff also has some fine moments, but I found Ford's overdone and for some reason the denouncement doesn't quite come off. However, visually it is very sumptuous, with the sets and costumes lushly coloured and true to period. Shakespeare's dialogue still has sparkle and wit, and on the most part the performances are good with the women on a higher level of consistency than the men. Judy Davis is a dignified and humorous Mistress Ford, and Prunella Scales is the same as Mistress Page and even more so. Elizabeth Spriggs' Mistress Quickly is wonderfully conniving. Richard Griffiths acquits himself very well, witty and robust yet noble and vulnerable, while in support with the men while Tenniel Evans is likable it is Michael Bryant's very funny Dr Caius that stands out. In conclusion, a decent production that is well performed on the whole and sumptuous to look at, though the pacing and some of the staging could have been better. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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Slack, Weak Production with Actors All At Sea
tonstant viewer19 November 2006
David Hugh Jones directed one other play for this series, the protracted, dull betrayal of "Pericles: Prince of Tyre." One can only conclude he has no sense of pulse, for this performance too is endless. Comedies are like sharks. If they don't keep moving forward, they die.

Some actors maintain their footing anyway. The women are good across the board. Judy Davis is a surprise as Mistress Ford - she's not the first actress that comes to mind when it comes to soufflés. Prunella Scales and Elisabeth Spriggs are particularly strong.

Richard Griffiths keeps promising to break loose as Falstaff but never does. He's cut all the nonsense, but there's not enough left without it. You finally wonder if he's ambivalent about playing the part at all. Michael Bryant, murderously ice-cold as Ratchkovsky in "Fall of Eagles," is here brilliantly funny as Dr. Caius. Most of the rest of the male cast are good in their parts as well.

A special exception must be made for Ben Kingsley. As Ford, he is weak, thin-voiced and neurotic, and when Ford masquerades as Brook, it's "Katy Bar the Door." The actor descends into an orgy of squeaks, gurgles, twitches and eye-rolling that give us a solid idea of what Jerry Lewis would have looked like in Elizabethan times. Or perhaps Dennis Weaver's baroque turn in Orson Welles's "Touch of Evil" done in iambic pentameter. A stronger director would have stepped hard on Mr. Kingsley's shenanigans and guided this misguided missile to a safer landing.

A lovely set by Don Homfrey is a valentine to the lost art of TV studio design. There is ample opportunity here for the eye to roam happily over the scenery while waiting for something to happen with the actors.
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Weak Falstaff, terrible direction
excalibur130814 July 2006
Falstaff reminds me of a Civil Servant from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries three weeks before his retirement date !

There is a British TV series called 'Pie in the Sky' staring Richard Griffiths. It's about a fat chef who does occasional detective work. He is very similar to the character Griffiths portrays in the Merry Wives of Windsor, Sir John Falstaff. He finally found his forte, eating all the pies. However he does have a rather impressive CV. Sir John Falstaff should be more like a Robert Newton of Treasure Island fame rather than a pastry cook.

If you have ever heard the audio version with Anthony Quale as Falstaff and Dennis Hordern as Master Ford you will understand what a facile, badly directed and totally incorrect version this is.

Just because it has the letters BBC behind it does not always mean there is quality.

What I found irritating was the Somerset accents for most of the Principle characters. Windsor is a short barge ride up the Thames from Richmond Palace. Windsor Castle can be seen from Heathrow Airport, so why the West Country "ooo--arr" lads ? Perhaps the director was from Bristol ?

The costumes look so new and clean, whilst the moneyed members of the cast might look like this the others remind me of a lucky tramp who has just had free apparel from Savile Row.

Where is Falstaff growling for his quart of Sack ? Where is the lust and roguery of the fat pudding ?

Master Ford/Brook should not be portrayed as the limp character he is. Where's the anger of the cuckold?

Where's the 'she mercury' of Mistress Quickly.

Nym and Pistol have credibility.Judy Davis and Prunella Scales play Mistresses Page and Ford well enough, even with some humour.

It's as if the director was directing the Merry Wives yet thinking the context of a completely different play.

No, humour, no direction, no acting and no good. This is supposed to be a comedy but the cast act as if someone has made an inappropriate joke at a wedding! Mis-cast,misdirected and occasionally over acted. Why does Ben Kingsley act as if he is playing the part of Master Slender ? Frank-ly not Master Ford.

And how sped you ?

Very ill favourably Master Director, Very ill favourably.

Bring me a quart of Sack to get over this dead fish lying on a wet fish shop's slab.

The comments of "Deadly Dull" from Chicago has it spot on !
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Not as bad as all that
flash-10413 November 2006
This production is not very good, but it's not quite as bad as I'd expected. Richard Griffiths holds up reasonably well in comparison to Anthony Quayle's portrayal in the BBC productions of Henry IV parts 1 & 2, though of course it's unfortunate that different actors portrayed the same characters in the different plays. Most of the other actors are reasonably competent, though not nearly as good as you'd expect from their work elsewhere. I agree that the direction is remarkably weak, with the denouement in particular being far too feeble to intimidate anyone, let alone Falstaff. But this was, after all, one of Shakespeare's weakest plays, allegedly written at royal command under severe deadline pressure.
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Deadly Dull
philip-118 January 2004
I usually love BBC productions, but this one is utterly misguided and makes one of Shakespeare's comedies seem a tedious bore.

It's too bad. A good cast of some of Britain's finest actors are driven into the ground by pedestrian direction, unatmospheric sets, and a general approach of reverence that is numbing to say the least. No one is having any fun!

I gave in after the second act!

Perhaps someday, an inventive director will give the play and story it's due!
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A farce is a farce and Falstaff is the farcical paltry poultry
Dr_Coulardeau2 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This play is a play of pure disorder that ends up in farcical comedy. So everything is dominated by three, the number of disorder. Three women are the mistresses of ceremonies and antics: Mistress Page, married to Mister Page, Mistress Ford, married to Mister Ford, and Mistress Quickly, Servant to Doctor Caius. The Pages have apparently one daughter they want to marry but three men are courting: Doctor Caius, a French physician, Slender and Fenton. The daughter, Anne Page, has chosen the last one and the others are promoted by her parents. Two young boys will be essential, probably the sons of Mister and Mistress Page since they are heavily identified as pages at the end, though this identification is ambiguous.

We must add Sir John Falstaff, and his three followers, Bardolph, Pistol and Nym. The page attached to him is probably one of the two Page sons.

The three Mistresses are associated to teach a merry lesson to their husbands and men who are jealous as for the husbands and vainly superior as for the Doctor. At the same time the gentlemen in the assembly want justice, in fact a good vengeance, from Falstaff who is dragging them into inebriety for his acolytes to rob them, to pick their pockets. What's more he pretends he will, not can but will, sleep with all the mature women around, hence he has three preys, though he is more interested in the two married ones.

The play ends with a fake fairy apparition and dance, led by Mistress Quickly and all the children of the neighborhood, all in fairy disguises at night. It works very well as for Falstaff who is totally ridiculed in his projects concerning the wives. At the same time the two husbands are taught some modesty and reserve about the freedom of their wives and the trust they owe them. Falstaff will laugh at his being defeated in the merriest way possible. And the two husbands will also come to terms with their wives in a final celebration.

The most hectic element is of course the case of Anne Page. The two official candidates are given contradictory instruction as for the disguise of the girl during the fairy dance. Slender is supposed to pick the girl in white and Doctor Caius the girl in green. They do that but Slender discovered luckily in time that the girl is a page, hence a boy. That marriage fails. Doctor Caius is less lucky than Slender because he marries his green girl who reveals herself to be a boy, another page, but after the ceremony has been performed. A strange situation indeed.

And it is when Anne Page appears with her husband, Fenton, duly married. We end up with two marriages, one totally out of sorts, and the other one correct, and two married couples of parents. The figure of four is perverted by that homosexual marriage, the supreme disturbance since it could mean in England being literally grilled on a public square. Luckily the man of the couple is French, hence he only risks being deep fried in a giant frying pan. Of course we are on a Shakespearean stage where all women are played by teenagers. So it is just a twist in the fabric that means nothing, but that must have created a lot of laughing. This trick will be heavily used by Ben Jonson in his "The Silent Woman" This production uses very aptly the inside of a home of the time, with at least two floors and an attic, numerous exits and numerous cupboards to hide in. It also vastly uses the countryside around the house. That gives the play a rhythm and a force that this plain farce deserves due to the serious subjects it deals with: the trust of husbands to their wives and the freedom for young people to marry according to their hearts and not their parents' wishes.

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Meandering comedy
alainenglish9 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"The Merry Wives of Windsor" takes one of Shakespeare's most popular characters, Sir John Falstaff, and gives him a story of his own where he tries to make advances on two wives to improve his station in life but in so doing only makes a total fool of himself.

Technically, this looks sumptuous with a wonderful Elizabethan set but the pace (despite a reordering of some scenes) is horribly slack. The subplot with a number of idiot suitors trying to claim the hand of Anne Page (Miranda Foster) pays off well but the build-up is terrible. The actors do what they can - Judy Davis and Prunella Scales as the two wives of the title come off with some dignity but Richard Griffiths is simply not engaging enough as Falstaff and Ben Kingsley is all over the place as Ford. Elizabeth Spriggs is quite good as Mistress Quickly and looks marvelous at the end where she impersonates the Fairy Queen.

Some better pacing and more fluid comic direction would have definitely given things here a much-needed kick up the backside.
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