Unlike previous tinsel and sparkly versions of Shakespeare’s flight of fantasy, this is a lustier, earthier affair in which the fairy folk are more diverse, darker and, in some cases, disturbingly hairy.
During preparations for the wedding of Duke Theseus (David Straithairn) to Hippolyte, a group of craftsmen chums including Bottom The Weaver (Kline) rehearse an amateur theatrical piece for the Duke’s ‘do’, while forbidden lovers Hermia and Lysander (Anna Friel and Dominic West) run away together, pursued by her angry fiance Demetrius (Christian Bale) and spurned, fretful Helena (Flockhart).
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, Faerie King Oberon (Everett) is miffed with his missus, Titania (Pfeiffer). He dispatches malicious ‘sprite’ Puck (improbably but delightfully Stanley Tucci) on a mission to humiliate his Queen. En route Puck can’t resist messing with the mortals lost in the woods, ensuring a night of amorous confusion.
Those who’ve never been too keen on this wheeze since being forced to play a fairy or a tree in a grisly school production may be cheered to hear that in this version the general rule of thumb is whenever anyone goes into the woods, their clothes come off. And the chicks mud wrestle. Otherwise this is largely an ‘aren’t we cute’ rampage through extravagant sets and over some sublime verse which the players you’d expect - Everett, West - put across nicely.
But the film belongs to the brilliant Kline, hilarious and moving as the hapless Bottom, trans-formed into an ass, since there are few genuinely funny or inspired moments without him. And look out for the best trained mutt (uncredited) since There’s Something About Mary.