One of the many changes in the world of big screen entertainment in the last few years has been the arrival of NT Live – a great service for those who can’t always get to the theatre of recordings of stage productions being shown in cinemas. Phyllida Lloyd’s production of “Julius Caesar” is something of a further advance on this.
First mounted at the Donmar Warehouse in December 2012, the production was part of a season of three Shakespeare plays in which the entire cast was made up of women – the others were “Henry IV” and “The Tempest”. Lloyd, who is also an experienced film director (“Mama Mia” and “The Iron Lady”) has now filmed all three, with “Julius Caesar” being the first to hit the screen. Shown last month at the Edinburgh Film Festival, “Julius Caesar” is now being shown in cinemas throughout the country from 12th July (list of dates here https://www.donmarwarehouse.com/production/10022/julius-caesar-in-cinemas/ ) with more dates to follow if there is a demand.
The production is an advance on the usual NT Live recordings in that, although Lloyd filmed it over two performances in the Donmar with an audience in place, it is shot in a far more cinematic style. The concept of the production is that the play is being mounted in a contemporary women’s prison by the inmates. The theatre itself becomes a prison with clanging locked gates and warders and we also have a few establishing location shots establishing the prison world outside that room. The cast are all in prison clothes and Caesar (Jackie Clune) is an alpha prisoner ruling the roost. When preparing the production, the cast and director mounted workshops in women’s prisons to ensure they got the authentic feeling and the film will be shown in prisons themselves as well as cinemas.
It is a touch disappointing that, apart from Harriet Walter’s anguished and conflicted Brutus, the film has been recast from the original production, which included Frances Barber as Caesar and Cush Jumbo as Mark Antony. but the film’s new cast, who are lesser known faces, are so good, that really is not an issue.
Particularly impressive is Jade Anouka’s youthful and original interpretation of Mark Antony and Jackie Clune’s great presence and scary authority as Caesar. The other actors too bring a vivid sense of personality to the supporting roles, which can often be played as a bit bland, two examples being Karen Dunbar as Casca, who would not be out of place in “Train Spotting” and Leah Harvey as The Soothsayer. The casting is not only innovative in gender but is unobtrusively and appropriately diverse as well.
This is a strong, imaginative concept, which casts a whole new light on the play as well as demonstrating, not for the first time, that women can get the teeth as firmly into the big Shakespearean roles as the men can.