When Lucentio (Michael York) arrives in Padua to attend university there he is filled with the possibilities of learning and expanding his horizons, and tells his manservant Tranio (Alfred Lynch) so. However, Tranio catches sight of a woman who pleases him and points out to his master that there's more to life than studying, which Lucentio finds out very quickly when a young lady catches his own eye: Bianca (Natasha Pyne). It is love at first sight for both of them, and they would be delighted to marry, except there's a problem - Bianca's father (Michael Hordern) has the final say.
Not that he would not wish his daughter to be wed, but he has another, older daughter in Katherine (Elizabeth Taylor) who he would like to see taken up the aisle before Bianca. Therein lies another snag as no man in his right mind would want to marry her, beautiful as she is, for she has the temperament of an angry wasp. There's only one thing to say to that: "A-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!" Well, according to this extremely boisterous version of William Shakespeare's play that's the correct reaction, my, there's a lot of laughing in this, the only thing missing being the cast slapping their thighs as if they were in pantomime.
Nobody actually says, "Hey Dandini!", but it's a close run thing, as director Franco Zeffirelli took this production to be a party that happened to have a film being made in the middle of it, and everyone is proclaiming their lines as if there was no tomorrow, with a lot of grimacing and exaggerated facial expressions into the bargain. Taylor was the worst offender as far as pulling faces went, but she did seem to be enjoying herself even if the reason behind her casting with her husband Richard Burton would have appeared to be that audiences flocked to see them lock horns in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Apparently that's exactly what they did want to see, as if the gossip column's reports of their stormy marriage was best represented in similar fashion onscreen. So what better venue than the grandaddy of all stormy marriages as far as drama went, Katherina and Petruchio? The latter shows up to laugh his head off, oh, and to romance the shrew of the title as well, although here she seems less a strong-headed and willful woman and more a raging psychopath, flinging anything about she can get her hands on, yelling at the top of her voice, and even attacking anyone who wanders into her orbit, all to prove that she is definitely not marriage material. Petruchio, on the other hand, sees her father's wealth and thinks otherwise.
So the first half is taken up with getting Kate, as he calls her, to the altar, and if it fails to be particularly hilarious then it's not through want of trying as you can practically hear the cast straining to secure any kind of laugh they can. The second half is more your actual taming, as Katherine is taught a lesson that in Shakespeare's time might have seemed perfectly reasonable but in more enlightened days will be more likely to leave you feeling sorry for the heroine and what she has to put up with to learn how to get along with people. Not that she was better as the maniac, but the sense of her being beaten down and indeed into shape by her chortling but borderline sadistic new husband guarantees that if you were not chuckling before then you certainly won't be by the last act. It was a colourful, vibrant staging, and the energy it conveyed was undoubtedly impressive, but the sexual politics might as well have been conceived in the 1500s. Music by Nino Rota.