Anyone who buys the lazy lie that Orson Welles’s talent nosedived along with his career in the wake of 1942’s ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ needs to watch this 1965 Shakespeare adaptation. While it may not possess the surging ambition of ‘Citizen Kane’ or ‘Touch of Evil’, it is Welles’s most human film, his most poignant, funny and empathetic.
It’s also one of the best screen adaptation of Shakespeare, which is ironic, because it’s also one of the most irreverent. Incorporating text from ‘Richard II’, both parts of ‘Henry VI’, ‘Henry V’ and ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’, the film tracks the downfall of Prince Hal’s boyhood hero Sir John Falstaff (Welles), the rambunctious roustabout who finds himself unable to ignore the creeping effects of age on his health, wits and social standing. I
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect and timely meeting of artist and character: at the time Welles was an outcast from Hollywood, better known as a raconteur and ham-for-hire than a creative force. Developed from a stage version, ‘Chimes at Midnight’ was cobbled together over several years. The result is strange and entrancing, at times dreamlike and distant, at others brutally realistic – the climatic battle scene is so savage it wouldn’t look out of place in ‘Game of Thrones’. But most of all, ‘Chimes at Midnight’ is gorgeously, heartbreakingly sad, shot through with romantic surrender and the ache of loss.