Shakespeare on screen..

Directly inspired by Nabokov’s comment on my earlier post, ‘Best Shakespearean plays’, I’m giving you all an opportunity to bury or praise the screen versions of Will’s work. Here are my own cheers and boos:
Cheers:
Trevor Nunn’s 1999(I think)version of Twelfth Night, set in a dreamlike 19th century, and starring Imogen Stubbs, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Kingsley, Imelda Staunton, Nigel Hawthorne, Toby Stephens, Richard E.Grant, Mel Smith and more. This features a prologue written by Nunn himself which I think works excellently well. Gorgeous music by the Irish composer Shaun Davey, (including some wonderful versions of such songs of Oh Mistress Mine, Hey ho the Wind and the Rain and so on, brilliantly performed by Ben Kingsley, a revlation as Feste) magnificent scenery, lovely costumes and a perfect sense of timing, combined with inspired, brilliant performances, make this my very top favourite. Sadly, it came out in the same year as Baz Luhrman’s Romeo +Juliet(of which more later!) and it missed out on all the publicity. Which was a shame as it has aged far far better than the Baz’ trashy-baroque excess. You can easily find it on DVD or video.

Also cheers go to:
*the BBC series, especially a great Macbeth(which starred, I think, Derek Jacobi)
*Richard III as a never-never fascist usurper of the throne of Britain, starring Ian McKellen;
*a version of Hamlet we watched at school in the late 70’s–a filmed version of a Nimrod Theatre production, starring John Bell as Hamlet and Anna Volska as Ophelia;
*RAN, Kurosawa’s amazing version of King Lear(haven’t seen Throne of Blood yet, tho’ I’ve been trying to find it for ages in our DVD rental shop);
*Quite liked Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet, too–though a bit mannered at times, I think the film had some brilliant performances, and an extraordinary understanding of the utter waste and ruin Hamlet had brought down on his country, with Fortinbras the only winner;
*Much Ado about Nothing, starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson; beautiful, sunlit, and thoroughly enjoyable;

And though this isn’t strictly speaking a screen version of Shakespeare’s plays, I thought Shakespeare in Love was one of the loveliest evocations of and hommage to the Shakespearian spirit that I’ve seen, with its combination of romance, sly wit, tragedy, low humour, deft word-play, and constant playing around with history and myth, a thing Shakespeare himself always did.

Boos..

*Baz Luhrman’s Romeo +Juliet. The first time I saw this, I was torn between being pleased that this much-hyped film was still constructed on Shakespeare’s own words–therefore introducing lots of people to them–, and being highly annoyed by the fact that Baz’ undoubted eye for baroque extravagance, barbaric opulence and lavish display (and I’m the first to enjoy those!) was not combined with an actual understanding of the story itself and of the characters. Further viewings only made me plump much more for the annoyance. I absolutely detest certain aspects–most esp the dumb dumb dumb rendering of the Queen Mab scene, with Mercutio handing Romeo some E’s, which afterwards he throws up anyway. I cannot bear that kind of stupid, lazy equation of the life-changing, thunderbolt-striking of love, and inspiration, which is what the Queen Mab speech represents, with ingesting a bloody chemical handed to you by a drug dealer. How pathetic. How shallow. How try-hard cool. And what was the point, anyway, given Romeo throws it up? That scene was typical to me of what was wrong with the movie, and what has dated it severely. I think also they didn’t include Shakespeare’s ending, which makes it clear that the Montagues and Capulets learnt too late, but actually did learn, just how much their stupid feuding had cost, in terms of the loss of their most beloved young people. Why leave that out? Perhaps they thought that wasn’t cool–so much better to think there never is a way out, and that oldies will never learn and always want to crush young people!
*Boo hiss also to the overwrought Midsummer Night’s Dream, whose director I forget, starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania. Once again, a triumph of style–Tuscan-style gilded baroque or what have you mixed with Raj splendour–over substance. Boring.

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Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Billy’s best play was by a country mile Hamlet.
The best verssion of this starred Larry in possibly his best performance.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I loved:

Olivier’s Hamlet
Olivier’s Richard III
Polanski’s Macbeth (not just for the nude sleep-walking scene)
Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (whatever happened to the wonderful Olivia Hussey? Leonard Whiting turned up later in a thoroughly disappointing version of Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun – a fabulous play)
Brook’s King Lear (with Paul Schofield as Lear)

Hated Luhrman’s R&J – actually I never managed to get through the whole thing..

Tony.T
2022 years ago

The Henry V with Kenneth Branagh is an absolute cracker.

Tony.T
2022 years ago

By the way, there is no balcony in Romeo and Juliet.

Tony.T
2022 years ago

The BBC MacBeth was Nicol Williamson. You know, Merlin from Excalibur. “Put THAT sword back, boy!”

James Russell
2022 years ago

As someone who’s seen more Shakespeare films than he’s read Shakespeare plays, this is my thread. In no particular order (because ordered lists of this sort are shit), these are the ones that interest me most:

* A British Film Institute/Milestone collection called “Silent Shakespeare”, a series of one- and two-reel silent Shakespeare adaptations from 1899 to 1911. Not likely to be everyone’s cup of Bill, but I find it fascinating.

* Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” (1957) and “Ran” (1985). The latter is on DVD here, the former is not and will have to be imported (Criterion have it in the US).

* Grigori Kozintsev’s “Hamlet” (1964) and “King Lear” (1971). I don’t know if either of these is available anywhere. Neither has been on SBS for about a decade.

* Julie Taymor’s “Titus” (1999). I’ve always had an inexplicable fondness for the play, which is widely considered to be his worst and which some critics have tried to deny was his (presumably on the grounds that Shakespeare was the greatest author who ever lived and therefore could not have written such crap, even as apprentice work), and I have a similar fondness for the riotously excessive film treatment.

* Roman Polanski’s “Macbeth” (1971). Along with “The Pianist”, pretty much the only Polanski film I really like.

* Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” (1996). Sorry.

* Tony Richardson’s “Hamlet” (1969), largely because it’s been forgotten. Not entirely successful but interesting.

* Orson Welles’ “Othello” (1952).

* Peter Brook’s “King Lear” (1971).

* Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” (1996), which is interesting mainly for the paradoxical situation it embodied: namely that filming “Hamlet” without cuts only shows how much more effective it is when you cut the text for performance.

Incidentally, how many of the other Elizabethan/Jacobean dramatists have been filmed? I see credits in the IMDB for Marlowe, Jonson, Middleton and Ford, but none of them have been filmed anywhere near as often as Shakespeare… there’s three Ford adaptations in the IMDB, and they’re all “Tis Pity She’s A Whore”, almost all the Jonsons are “Volpone” and almost all the Middletons are “The Changeling”. I observe, incidentally, that Middleton (rather than C. Tourneur) is credited with “The Revenger’s Tragedy” in Alex Cox’s film of same…

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

I’m in complete agreement with Rob here. He’s picked my three favourites – Olivier’s Hamlet, Polanski’s Macbeth and Peter Brook’s Lear (also eagerly anticipating Brook’s minimalist interpretation of Hamlet)

Also, there were too Branagh versions of Hamlet, the 2 odd hours version and the full 4 hour opus. I’ve only seen the first one although I think I have the longer version on tape which like Olivier version I’ll have to wait until we get a new VCR to view. I also have Orson Welles’ Othello on tape somewhere but I’ve yet to see this to appraise it. I’ve probably ommitted heaps of good versions, but if I recall from viewing the internet Movie Database there were either hundreds or thousands of Shakespeare adaptations. Apologies to those I’ve forgotten.

Tony.T
2022 years ago

Stephen, Brook’s Hamlet was on Fox Ovation (Ch.26) last week. It was accompanied with a documantary in which Brook was interview about the play.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

“Written by William Shakespeare. Additional dialogue by Sam Taylor.” – Screen credit for the “The Taming of the Shrew,” 1929. As you’d expect, not really a top notch film version of the Bard.

However, I reckon these flicks were good:

McKellan’s Dick 3. A brillant demonstration of how W.S. can be intelligently updated, full of lovely little touches like using a Kit Marlowe poem as the lyrics for the opening big band number, making the Queen and Rivers Americans, a Dragon Rapide for The Royal Flight and Air Marshal Buckingham delivering the final battle through air power. And at the centre of it, a definitive interpretation of the title role (Sir Ian’s delivery of the “Yes, if the devil tempt you to do good”

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Also it’s “Nabakov” with only one “o”, Sophie. I’d hate to be mistaken for some itinerant lepidopterist.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

David, Edward II – the Marlowe Play – was filmed spectacularly by Derek Jarman.

I’m also partial to Polanski’s Macbeth and think Titus is brilliant – if you saw it at the cinema, it had an immense impact.

why don’t ppl like the Baz Luhrmann Romeo & Juliet – soundtrack is brilliant for a start. is this an “eternal bard” thing and part of the whole anti po/mo education push? can’t you just appreciate it for its qualities as a film – excitement, engagement, acting, visually lush – which are many?

I know what Nabs means about crushes on Olivia Hussey too :)

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

oops, sorry, Nabs! will try to get it right next time! Will have to try and see Polanski’s Macbeth–like you I’ve been rather underwhelmed by his films, except for The Pianist, which I thought was brilliant.
Yellow Vinyl, I don’t like Baz’ Romeo + Juliet not because it’s po-mo(I don’t think it is really, anyway, just trashy-baroque), but because our Baz just does not understand the story and characters..he mistakes excess for exploration..he does the same thing in Moulin Rouge–in the end you are dazzled by style but couldn’t care less about the characters. I think he’s a shallow director, big on gestural stuff, small on actual understanding of people. And though of course you’ve still got our Will’s words in the film, they are often unintelligible. I think it was a wasted opportunity-I have no probs at all about updating Shakespeare if it’s done well(and before I went to see the film, I was looking forward to it because I liked the sound of the background he’d invented for it–like an updated West Side Story–) but I don’t think he did do it well.
And as I remarked earlier, I think it’s aged badly. Interestingly, our sons had to watch it at school recently and they were distinctly underwhelmed(as were most of their friends) by it–whereas they liked the Zeffirelli one much better. This is espite the fact their sister–who is 5 and 7 years older than the boys, respectively–liked it when she saw it with us when we went to see it when it first came out.
Incidentally, I forgot about Branagh’s Henry V when I was doing my list–but yes, it’s an excellent one, too.

James Russell
2022 years ago

I actually kind of liked the 1929 “Shrew”, but really, it’s a Douglas Fairbanks film, not Shakespeare. Poor Mary Pickford didn’t look like she knew what she was doing in that film, though.