‘Read mine first…’

17th June 2012

There is something a little strange about seeing in print a review of your programme when it is not yet finished. But the transmission master of our film of the RSC’s Julius Caesar will only be delivered  on the morning of the broadcast – which is next Sunday, 24 June. So in the last few days we have released a handful of not-yet-complete copies for journalists to take a look at – and our first advance review has appeared, courtesy of Michael Moran at The Lady (‘for elegant women with elegant minds’). More on this below, along with extracts from Saturday’s All the world’s a screen by Sarah Hemming for the Financial Times. She discusses films from stage productions, with contributions from our director Greg Doran and nice comments about Macbeth and Hamlet as well as Julius Caesar.

For The Lady Michael Moran’s sums up his response to Julius Caesaris as follows:

It’s not an altogether flawless presentation. Some of the larger scenes are clearly filmed on a stage while most of the play is shot on location. The effect is a little jarring, especially in terms of the contrasting sound quality. Nevertheless it’s a topical, reinvigorated take on a play that has thrilled audiences for some 400 years.

Wise advice warns producers against responding in any way whatsoever to journalists, but let’s ignore that here. It’s a touching frustrating that the reviewer did not understand that he was watching an undubbed copy, and that the full mix will do much to even out the ‘contrasting sound quality’.

More of a concern, however, is that the gent from The Lady has seemingly not recognised that it was a deliberate choice to film certain scenes in the theatre and everything else on location. For us, this is one of the key creative decisions of the production – and we believe it’s also one of the most innovative aspects of the film.

So now the question is, will others recognise it as such – and will the shift between the two modes feel similarly ‘jarring’. No doubt the coming fortnight or so will bring other voices and other responses – including, we hope, your own in the Comments below or elsewhere.

In her Financial Times piece, Sarah Hemming asks several of the key questions about this kind of production:

Isn’t the essence of an excellent theatre show that it is live – that there is a rapport between actors and audience that cannot be achieved through a screen? Can filmed versions or live screenings of stage productions ever match up to the experience of being there?

Greg is clear about his position:

“It’s not a second-hand experience. It’s a different experience. And it’s going to reach many, many more people.” … What is important, he stresses [the article continues], is to seek out the core of the stage production and translate that into the new medium.

Greg also has the appropriate response to the preview from The Lady:

Julius Caesar… seemed to have these intensely private conspiracy scenes and massive public scenes. The forum scene is dependent on its liveness and the sense of an audience. It struck me that a way to do it might be to film the private scenes on location and the rest of them in the theatre [with an audience]. So the film acknowledges that this is a theatre show.”

As I did with Hamlet here and Macbeth here, in the coming week I will set up a page of links to all the previews, reviews and blogs, as well as links to my blog posts so far about the production.

For more on the film, go to the BBC Four programme page – and here’s the preview clip as it is on YouTube (which I hope will be accessible to readers from outside the UK); this moment comes from just after the assassination:

Image: Julius Caesar (Jeffery Kissoon) in profile; photograph by Ellie Kurttz, taken on the set of the film; © Illuminations/Royal Shakespeare Company.


  1. bex says:

    Really looking forward to seeing this, John… I wonder if you’re going to be reluctant in the future to provide these screeners, when you run up against someone like the Moran who clearly doesn’t “get” the entire premise? Or perhaps just be more careful about to whom you send them? I read Hemming’s article earlier in the week and thought she totally understood the conflict and was, in general, open to the innovation involved.

    (incidentally, have you seen this book? We just got it at our library. I haven’t had a chance to look through it but it looks really interesting: The projection of Britain : a history of the GPO Film Unit. edited by Scott Anthony and James G. Mansell. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire [England] ; New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.)

  2. John Wyver says:

    Thanks bex – I think it’s important to offer up any and all work for critical engagement, and so there’s no sense that one should try to restrict who gets to see advance copies – I’m sure that’s not the way to go. The best you can do is respond, politely, as I’ve tried to do above.

    As for the book by Scott Anthony and James Mansell, it’s excellent – and indeed I enthused about it on the blog at the end of last year:

    I hope you’ll let us know what you think of Julius Caesar after transmission.

  3. Zeba Clarke says:

    Will Julius Caesar be available on DVD? If so, when and will it be an RSC or a BBC production? Desperately want it for teaching in the next school year.

  4. John Wyver says:

    Dear Zeba Clarke,

    Yes, there will definitely be a DVD, and we intend that this will be ready by September. We expect that it will be a Illuminations/RSC DVD, and you can watch for news of it by following @Illuminations on Twitter.


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