The Taming of the Shrew
In Zeffirelli’s adaptation Elizabeth Taylor stars as Katharina, the ill-tempered daughter of Baptista Minola (Michael Horden). Baptista’s youngest daughter, Bianca (Natasha Pyne), is being courted by several suitors, including Lucentio (Michael York), but Baptista refuses to let Bianca marry unless Katharina is married off first. Desperate for Bianca’s hand, Lucentio bribes the brute Petruchio (Richard Burton) into trying to tame the seemingly untamable heart of Katharina.
The gender politics in the film would have played far better had Zeffirelli not had such high profile stars in the film. The Taming of the Shrew feels more like a film designed for Burton and Taylor to run wild for a few hours. This is not to say that it is entirely a bad thing. Richard Burton really shines in the first two acts as Petruchio. A perfect example of this is when Petruchio shows up extremely drunk, and hours late, to his own wedding.
Although dominant in the beginning, Zeffirelli does not seem to know how to handle Petruchio’s change from buffoon to lovelorn gentlemen. This probably explains why Zeffirelli leaves Elizabeth Taylor to pick up the slack in the last two acts. As odd as it may sound, her best performances in the film are in the scenes where she is “being tamed” by Burton. Although the events that lead to Katharina’s ultimate change seems a little far fetch, Taylor brings enough charm to the role to overlook the shortcomings in the story.
Although The Taming of the Shrew was Zeffirelli’s debut feature film, it is nowhere near as strong as his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet which was released a year later in 1968. In fact, the film is not on par with any of the other Shrew inspired films such as Lina Wertmuller’s outstanding film Swept Away or even the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You. Having said that, there are enough enjoyable moments in The Taming of the Shrew to satisfy even the causal viewer for a few hours.
Taming of the Shrew is part of our "The Must See List" series. The film was recommended by Andrew