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Shakespeare on Film

Infoplease picks the best film adaptations of Shakespeare

by Shmuel Ross

Relatively Faithful Adaptations

“An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told.”

Henry V (1944)

Directed by and starring: Laurence Olivier

Description: This play, about a British military campaign, was filmed during World War II to boost the morale of British troops.

Hamlet (1948)

Directed by and starring: Laurence Olivier

Description: Simplified version of Hamlet as "a man who could not make up his mind."

Macbeth (1948)

Directed by and starring: Orson Welles

Description: Employs a mixture of stage and screen techniques. See the uncut version if you can.

Othello (1952)

Directed by and starring: Orson Welles

Description: Made over several years on a shoestring budget. The soundtrack was completely reconstructed forty years later.

Richard III (1955)

Directed by and starring: Lawrence Olivier

Description: Olivier, now in Technicolor!

Falstaff / Chimes at Midnight (1965)

Directed by and starring: Orson Welles

Description: Cobbled together from the five plays featuring Falstaff: Henry IV Parts I and II, Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Othello (1965)

Directed by: Stuart Burge
Starring: Lawrence Olivier

Description: A staged version of the play recorded on film. Disconcertingly, Olivier performs wearing blackface.

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Directed by: Franco Zeffirelli

Description: Has teenaged actors in the leading roles, as written.

Macbeth (1971)

Directed by: Roman Polanski

Description: Cinematically rich. Absorbing, bleak, and drenched in blood and gore.

Henry V (1989)

Directed by and starring: Kenneth Branagh

Description: The first of Branagh's Shakespearean films, this is a dark film with realistic scenes of war.

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Directed by and starring: Kenneth Branagh
Also starring: Emma Thompson

Description: This screwball comedy is fun for all, whether or not they're fans of Shakespeare.

Othello (1995)

Directed by: Oliver Parker
Starring: Lawrence Fishburne & Kenneth Branagh

Description: The Moor of Venice is finally portrayed on film by a person of color.

Richard III (1995)

Directed by: Richard Loncraine
Starring: Ian McKellen

Description: Transposes the play to a 1930s England that never was.

Hamlet (1996)

Directed by and starring: Kenneth Branagh

Description: The definitive film version is an unabridged 4-hour epic.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)

Directed by: Michael Hoffman
Starring: Kevin Kline & Michelle Pfeiffer

Description: Set in late 19th-century Italy and has characters on bicycles, but retains Shakespeare's dialogue.

Titus (1999)

Directed by: Julie Taymor

Description: Visually eclectic adaptation of Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's goriest play.

The Merchant of Venice (2004)

Directed by: Michael Radford
Starring: Al Pacino & Jeremy Irons

Description: Places the controversial play in historical and geographical context.



Looser Adaptations

“More honored in the breach than the observance.”

Kiss Me Kate (1953)

Directed by: George Sidney

Description: About a divorced couple asked to put on a musical production of The Taming of the Shrew, with songs by Cole Porter.

Kumonosu Jo / Throne of Blood (1957)

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

Description: Japanese version of Macbeth in which samurai take the place of Scots.

West Side Story (1961)

Directed by: Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise

Description: Romeo and Juliet re-envisioned as a New York City turf war, with frequent dance numbers.

Strange Brew (1983)

Directed by and starring: Rick Moranis & Dave Thomas

Description: Hamlet in a Canadian brewery, featuring Bob and Doug McKenzie. Beauty, eh?

Ran (1985)

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

Description: Japanese version of King Lear which also draws on samurai legends. The title means "Chaos."

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Directed by: Gus van Sant
Starring: River Phoenix

Description: A road movie that's a loose adaptation of Henry IV.

Green Eggs and Hamlet (1995)

Directed by: Mike O'Neal

Description: Spoken almost entirely in Dr. Seuss style couplets. (It's lots of fun when you begin / But very soon the joke wears thin.)

Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio

Description: Moves the action to contemporary "Verona Beach," using music-video cinematography.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Directed by: Gil Junger
Starring: Heath Ledger & Julia Styles

Description: Romantic teen comedy with a great soundtrack, loosely based on The Taming of the Shrew.

Hamlet (2000)

Directed by: Michael Almereyda
Starring: Ethan Hawke

Description: Sets the play in contemporary New York, with CEOs taking the place of kings.

Romeo Must Die (2000)

Directed by: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Starring: Jet Li & Aaliyah

Description: Romeo and Juliet as a martial-arts action film, with the rival houses becoming Asian and African American gangs on the Oakland waterfront.

My Kingdom (2001)

Directed by: Don Boyd
Starring: Richard Harris & Lynn Redgrave

Description: King Lear involving a crime boss and his family in contemporary Liverpool.

O (2001)

Directed by: Tim Blake Nelson
Starring: Mekhi Phifer

Description: Othello moved onto a basketball court.

Macbeth: The Comedy (2001)

Directed by: Allison L. LiCalsi

Description: Features a lesbian couple as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and three gay men as the Weird Sisters.

Scotland, PA (2001)

Directed by: Billy Morrissette
Starring: James Legros & Christopher Walken

Description: This parodic adaptation sets Macbeth at a burger stand. Really. Duncan gets killed using a deep fryer.

She's the Man (2006)

Directed by: Andy Fickman
Starring: Amanda Bynes

Description: Twelfth Night at a British prep school.



Films that use Shakespeare as a starting point and take it elsewhere

“All the world's a stage.”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

Directed by: Tom Stoppard

Description: Focuses on two minor characters from Hamlet. What do you do when you're not the star of your own life?

Looking for Richard (1996)

Directed by: Al Pacino

Description: A documentary about the challenges of producing, performing, and enjoying Richard III.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Directed by: John Madden

Description: A clever and anachronistic tale of Shakespeare being inspired to write Romeo and Juliet.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (2000)

Directed by: Paul Kafno

Description: The Reduced Shakespeare Company's hilarious presentation of 37 plays in 88 minutes.




Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

Did you know?
The longest inaugural speech was William Henry Harrison’s. At 8,445 words, it is nearly twice the length of any other president's.

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