Thirteen years ago, Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight) and director Michael Almereyda teamed for an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s all-time classic play Hamlet, moving its action from Danish castles and royalty to glittering skyscrapers and modern corporations. The resultant film was critically divisive, hailed as visually impressive but often tone-deaf in its translation of Shakespeare to a different cultural context.
In 2014, Almereyda and Hawke will once again attempt to transplant the words of the Bard into a contemporary setting with an adaptation of the tragedy Cymbeline. In its original form, Cymbeline follows the titular King of Celtic Britain as he discovers (and violently reacts to) his only daughter Imogen’s secret marriage to a court follower named Posthumus.
Almereyda has taken this core concept and placed it in a rather unexpected new setting: the violent criminal underworld of American biker gangs. The first trailer for this rather different take on Cymbeline shows off not only Hawke, but an imposing Ed Harris (Gravity) as Cymbeline himself and Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil 6) as his biker queen.
Along with its first trailer, Cymbeline has also released a poster that evokes shades of Sin City:
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Adaptations of Shakespearean plays set in vastly changed and/or modern settings aren’t by nature terrible. Richard Loncraine’s 1995 adaptation of Richard III is rather enjoyable (largely because of a scene-stealing Ian McKellen in the main role), as are the recent Much Ado About Nothing and Coriolanus, directed by Joss Whedon and Ralph Fiennes, respectively.
That said, Cymbeline shifts its setting so dramatically that it’s difficult to see the production feeling anything other than dissonant. This kind of dramatic gamble could pay off in spades if handled skillfully, but the chances of 17th century dialogue sounding natural amidst diamond-smuggling bikers seem slim indeed. At the very least, Cymbeline will be interesting to track – if only to see whether it pulls off this bold experiment.
Cymbeline does not yet have an exact release date, but should enter cinemas in 2014.