Friday Film Focus: Cymbeline (1913)

It’s May and a Friday, which means a new early (really early) summer blockbuster is being released. A couple of weeks back, it was the latest Guardians of the Galaxy flick. Today, something a little different: the 1913 silent film version of Cymbeline!

OK, so it’s not a theatrical release…but it’s our play under discussion, so just go with me, willya?

In 1913, the first film version of Cymbeline was made. It was directed by Lucius J. Henderson, with a script or scenario by Theodore Marston. Like all silent films, this is a pretty short one, just 22 minutes. It’s got no Shakespearean text, natch, as it’s silent; all “dialog” and plot are conveyed through intertitles. But if you know the story, it’s pretty easy to follow.

Cymbeline: courtesy: Silent Hall of Fame
Courtesy: Silent Hall of Fame

Obviously, at 22 minutes, there’s going to be quite a bit left out. But what’s more interesting to me is what they’ve added. The first three minutes (over ten percent of the running time) is devoted to the backstory: the kidnapping and woodsy raising of the two princes, the queen’s jealousy, Cloten’s goofiness, and the courtship and marriage of Imogen and Posthumus (here just Leonatus)…all stuff that takes place before the play starts.

But like I said, we lose some stuff. Like the Queen being evil. The drug. Cloten’s disguise and decapitation. The visitation by Leonatus’ dead family and living god Jupiter.

At the end, Imogen stops Leonatus from killing himself, after all the revelations, and there’s hugs all around.

There’s really no reason to watch this, unless of course you’re a completist, a silent movie buff or a fan of Florence La Badie, who played Imogen. Who’s Florence La Badie, you ask? Only one of the biggest stars of early silent films. And pretty much the first movie start to die at the height of her popularity.

So, yeah, there’s that.

The film is available for viewing on our YouTube Cymbeline playlist.

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