Cymbeline

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Cymbeline Movie Poster Image
Modern-day Shakespeare adaptation is quite violent.
  • R
  • 2015
  • 98 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Untrustworthiness is a running theme; most of the characters get into trouble by trusting those they shouldn't. But on a certain level, the movie promotes asking questions, rather than blindly accepting the status quo.

Positive Role Models & Representations

This Shakespeare adaptation is full of brooders, self-absorbed tyrants, and liars. But some do eventually stop to ask what's really going on.

Violence

Guns and shooting; character is beheaded (blood shown); other dead characters -- and some buried alive; golf club bashing to the head (off screen); cop-shooting; blood spurt sounds; skateboarder smashes into a cop car; character throws another one to the floor.

Sex

A male character moves his hand under his pants to his crotch (impending masturbation implied). Also kissing, some sex-related dialogue, and a male character naked (nothing sensitive shown).

Language

"Hell."

Consumerism

Frequent use of iPhones, iPads, and Apple computers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Cymbeline is a modern-day Shakespeare adaptation. Violence is the main issue; there are lots of guns and shootings, plus bloody wounds, a beheading, a character buried alive, dead bodies, beating/fighting, and more. On the sex side of things, there's kissing and sex-related dialogue, and a male character moves his hand under his clothes as if he's preparing to masturbate. Language isn't an issue aside from one use of "hell." This is one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays, so it probably won't appeal to teens as much as Romeo & Juliet or Hamlet might, but it's worth a look.

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What's the story?

In Shakespeare's play CYMBELINE, updated to modern times, Cymbeline (Ed Harris) is the king of a motorcycle club. His daughter, Imogen (Dakota Johnson), angers her father by marrying lower-class skateboarder Posthumus (Penn Badgley). Sent into exile, Posthumus meets the sneaky Iachimo (Ethan Hawke), who bets Posthumus that he can sleep with Imogen -- and fakes evidence to "prove" that he did. Posthumus angrily dispatches a messenger, Pisanio (John Leguizamo), to kill Imogen, but Pisanio spares her life, and she ventures out, dressed as a boy, to find her husband. Lost and hungry, she finds Belarius (Delroy Lindo), who has a shady connection to the king. Meanwhile, the king's new wife (Milla Jovovich) has her own sinister plans.

Is it any good?

Shakespeare fans will find that Cymbeline -- which plays a little like Romeo & Juliet but with a more hopeful ending -- is very much worth a look. Sometimes remembered for his experimental filmmaking with the Fisher-Price Pixelvision camera, director Michael Almereyda previously worked with Hawke on a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet (2000), which became his most famous film. Now the two have reteamed for another Shakespeare adaptation -- this time the lesser-known, late-period Cymbeline.

As with the pair's Hamlet, Cymbeline makes the most of its contemporary locations and props, with skateboards, iPhones, and iPads figuring intriguingly into the plot and gas stations and graffiti-covered walls serving as backdrops. Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) is remarkably good in her role, as is Hawke in the nastily playful, Iago-like role of Iachimo. Some of the other actors seem a bit awkward, and the final act wrap-up feels disjointed and rushed -- with an uninspired parking lot setting -- but on the whole, it works.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Cymbeline's violence. How did it affect you? Does it enhance or detract from the story?

  • What makes Shakespeare so appealing to some people and so difficult for others? Why do you think his plays have stood the test of time?

  • Does Shakespeare translate well to movies? Is he better on stage? In print? Why or why not? How does the setting impact your appreciation? Do you prefer Elizabethan-set versions or modern-day adaptations like this one?

  • How does Cymbeline compare to Romeo & Juliet? Which elements are similar? Which are different?

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