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:
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.
*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.