One of the joys of being old is the occasional discovery of something lovely, something you never knew existed.
That’s what happened Sunday when we saw the filmed performance of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” -- not in London but in Kew Gardens, Queens.
I am embarrassed to admit I never knew the play, after four years of being around the wonderful Shakespeare Festival at Hofstra College in the late ‘50’s. That was the biggest thing on our little campus, because the president, John Cranford Adams, was a noted Shakespeare scholar, and had made sure we had a Globe Theatre in the new playhouse (soon deservedly named for him).
I can still see friends in costume, wielding swords, wooing, declaiming. (Francis Coppola was backstage, learning his craft.)
However, in five decades of seeking out Shakespeare all over London, I still had to verify that the “The Winter’s Tale” was his, when it popped up Sunday at the deus-ex-machina art-film house in a funky corner in Queens that reminds me of some blessedly static part of London.
Yes, it was Shakespeare. My wife had seen a version at the pit at the Barbican. The plot was for me to discover.
Branagh was excellent as the jealous king who touches off the tragedy but the star was Judi Dench as the wise elder who speaks truth to the king. She is 80; her voice and psychic power could cut and polish a diamond.
The elders in the movie house seemed to love Dench. They spoke English and Russian and other languages of our city; the lady next to me was Jamaican.
No plot giveaways here. I will only say that I remember tearing up near the end of Stoppard’s “Arcadia” a few decades back when the tectonic plates of two separate centuries, two sets of people at a country estate, gracefully overlap.
I wish I could say, “Don’t miss this,” but this was essentially a one-off item that may pop up elsewhere at the rare theaters that provide quality films. (The movies in my town are mostly banal trash.)
To find quality performances, one has to monitor the schedules for the Metropolitan Opera, the National Theatre Live, the Bolshoi Ballet, and now Branagh’s enterprise in the gorgeously renovated Garrick Theatre at Charing Cross. (My London rellies saw a sold-out “The Winter’s Tale” on Christmas Eve and reported that rare British happening, a standing ovation.)
I didn’t stand in the movie house in deepest Queens on Sunday – too busy wiping away a few tears before the house lights came back on.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.