Shakespeare on film

August 18, 2011

Last week Joe Carter drew attention to a list of great Shakespearean films compiled by the folks at Rotten Tomatoes. I consider myself something of an enthusiast for Shakespeare on film, so I examined the list with interest.

A few observations:

  • I understand that Shakespeare is a great dramatist, but for me it is his use of language that gives the most pleasure. Consequently I am mostly unmoved by very loose adaptations in which the dramatic structure is based on a Shakespearean model but in which the language is updated to modern English. Into this category go films like Ten Things I Hate About You and The Lion King. (The Lion King?!?!) For similar reasons, I am not eager to see Shakespeare adapted into other languages. (Kurosawa’s Ran, for instance, which adapts King Lear, was a big disappointment for me.)
  • There are quite a few highly regarded adaptations that I have never seen, nor, in some cases, heard of. I have seen none of the Laurence Olivier or Orsen Welles adaptations, for instance, which, based on these rankings, is evidently a major oversight. I am an admirer of Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare, but somehow I missed his Othello. I was also unaware of Polanski’s Macbeth.
  • Having said that, all of my favourite adaptations made the list. Almereyda’s Hamlet, about which I have written before, made the cut. The 1995 Richard III rests principally on a terrific, riveting performance by Ian McKellen. But my very favourite Shakespearean film, which gives unalloyed pleasure on each viewing, is Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing.

None of which takes anything away from this memorable soliloquy:

I am curious to know which Shakespearean films you would recommend. Feel free to leave a comment.

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2 Responses to “Shakespeare on film”


  1. I’d be curious to hear what you think of the recent version of The Tempest. I saw it recently but I still don’t really know what to think of it, it’s such a different animal.

    I’m really looking forward to Anonymous: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anonymous_(film)

  2. cburrell Says:

    It’s funny that you should mention that film. I love the play, and was looking forward to the film when I learned of it, but in the end I did not see it, and for two reasons: (1) it got terrible reviews, pretty much across the board, and (2) it was directed by Julie Taymor, whose earlier foray into Shakespearean filmmaking, Titus, I sincerely wish that I had never seen (on account of its gruesome visuals). So I was dissuaded.

    This is the first I’ve heard of Anonymous. The premise strikes me as more irritating than alluring, but perhaps something smart can be done with it. Roland Emmerich as director does not inspire confidence!


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