Chimes at Midnight (Restored) DVD
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Directed by Orson Welles
Produced in 1965
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Combining several of Shakespeare’s histories, Orson Welles’ long-unreleased masterpiece follows Falstaff across the years. James Oliver dares to suggest that this might be Welles’ best film.
In some ways, it’s a shame Orson Welles made Citizen Kane. Yes, it’s a great movie - absolutely one of the best, but it casts a huge shadow and too often eclipses Welles’ other work. And when that other work is as good as Chimes at Midnight, that’s unfortunate.
In fairness, Welles had some help on the film – Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, Henry V, Richard II and The Merry Wives of Windsor provided much of the material, which Welles moulded into a script. Welles focussed on the recurrent character of Falstaff, the errant knight who takes young prince Hal a-roistering and a-wassailing (Henry IV part one), only to be cast aside when his former charge ascends to the throne (Henry IV part two).
Like much of Welles' work, it's a film about the passing of a golden age and the pang of nostalgia: Falstaff dies, a forgotten figure as Henry invades France (Henry V). It's tempting to draw some equivalence between Falstaff and the actor who played him: by 1965, wasn't Welles was a shadow of what he'd been? No longer the boy wonder who could do what he wanted, he had to fund his films with wages made acting in unworthy films.
But this reading isn't enough. The merest fact Chimes At Midnight exists testifies to Welles' success as a hustler: he is a model for independent (in every sense) filmmakers everywhere. Moreover, the film is an utter triumph. He might not have had enough money but Welles was nothing if not resourceful. No matter that he had barely a hundred extras for the famous battle of Shrewsbury – he staged (and edited) the sequence to perfection and it's been ripped off many times since.
Welles had previously filmed Shakespeare twice before, with worthwhile productions of Macbeth and Othello. As good as both those films are, Chimes at Midnight is in a different class, both as a sensitive adaptation of Shakespeare (other sources include The Merry Wives of Windsor and Richard II) and as a film.
It's not going too far to say it's the best Shakespearean adaptation the cinema has ever produced (well, in the English language at least). Indeed, it's possible that this might be the best film Orson Welles made – better even than the sainted Citizen Kane.
James Oliver on 16th December 2010
Author of 147 reviews
An amalgam of Henry IV parts 1 & 2 as well as Richard II, Henry V and the Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight is based on Welles' own play Five Kings, while the film's narration, spoken by Ralph Richardson, is taken from Holinshed's 'Chronicles'. Welles considered this film to be one of his finest works, saying 'If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, this is the one I'd offer up.'
Alongside an incredible cast including Margaret Rutherford, Jeanne Moreau, Fernando Rey, Marina Vlady and John Gielgud, Orson Welles himself plays Sir John Falstaff in what is accepted by many to be the greatest ever screen portrayal of Falstaff.
Publisher: Mr Bongo
Length: 115 mins
Cat No: MRBDVD048
Format: DVD Colour
- Definitive restored version