Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Movie Adaptations (Shakespeare Reading Month).

I hope you are all enjoying your Shakespearean reads this month in honor of Shakespeare Reading Month! I know I am!

Today's post is on some movie adaptations of Shakespeare's plays. Personally, I LOVE watching adaptations of books and plays! And now, with all the streaming media, older films are easier to find. Another great resource for finding movies is your local library.

Movies based on Shakespeare's plays are vast. Since he left behind 38 plays, Shakespeare has become a great source of material for filmmakers. And since movies have hit it big, there have been hundreds of adaptations. Some are modern adaptations-meaning the play is referenced or only the plotline is followed. Some are traditional, some take liberties. Some focus on Shakespeare himself, and others are all about pushing the envelope. I think they're all wonderful in their own way!

Now, there is no way I could talk about all of the movie adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, as there are close to 500...and counting. Instead, I picked 20 that I have either seen, want to see, or have heard a lot about. I'll be specific when I discuss each film about whether I have seen it. Please let me and everyone else know in the comments if there is another adaptation we all need to watch!

I also want to point you in the direction of Rotten Tomatoes "Greatest Shakespeare Movies" for another great source on Shakespearean films.

O (2001: Rated R)

O is based on the play Othello, one of Shakespeare's heralded "4 great tragedies." While I haven't read Othello, or seen any movie adaptations of the play, I have heard a lot about the play. The play itself contains a lot of references to racism, violence, angst, and identity, making it a good choice for high school students (a lot to relate to!).

The movie stars Julia Stiles, Josh Hartnett, Mekhi Phifer, Andrew Keegan, and Martin Sheen among others. Instead of the traditional storyline, the plot was adapted by director Tim Nelson to a high school setting.

I remember when this one came out, and while I wanted to see it, I never had the opportunity. This film seems to have some mixed reviews-mainly concerns that it is too violent (what do people expect when it is rated R?). I still want to see it at some point-perhaps after I finish Othello this month!

The Lion King (1994: Rated G)

Are you surprised to see a Disney movie on this list? Don't be!

The Lion King, while not a direct adaptation, has elements of two Shakespearean plays: Hamlet and Richard III. While I have only focused on the aspects of Hamlet in my previous viewings (including watching it last weekend), I know that I am going to have to watch it yet again after finishing Richard III this month.

There are scenes in here that I love because of their reference to Hamlet. The scene with Mufasa's ghost gets me every time, as well as Simba's constant struggle with his identity and purpose in life-sounds a lot like the whiny Hamlet, doesn't it?

If you haven't seen this one in awhile, find your old VHS tape and give it a go (or pick up a copy before it heads back to that stupid Disney vault).

She's the Man (2006: Rated PG-13)

Twelfth Night is actually the play I am currently reading, which makes me laugh considering I saw this movie years ago. The spoof is pretty darn funny! The play has quite a bit of cross-dressing, which makes it one of the more interesting of Shakespeare's plays (he loved switching his character's identities).

She's the Man, starring Amanda Bynes, is a modern retelling of the play. There is no Shakespearean language, but the plot, cross-dressing and all, serves as the inspiration.

The movie is quite hilarious, and that should say something considering the fact that I think Amanda Bynes isn't that funny of a girl. But the comedy is spot on, the situations are hilarious, and it is just what you can expect from a teen comedy spoofing the Bard (Plus Channing Tatum is in it, and he is easy on the eyes...)

Richard III (1995: Rated R)

I actually had never even heard of this film until I was searching for a few more film adaptations of Shakespeare's historical plays. It probably doesn't help that I was only 10 when it came out. And since I'm reading this one, I figured I should do a little more research!

This film stars Ian McKellen (Yes, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings..."You SHALL NOT PASS!"- Sorry, couldn't help it), as the murderous and insane Richard III. Set in a fascist and scary form of England in the 1930s, the film takes some liberties with Shakespeare's original work.

That being said, the movie has earned great reviews and I am anxious to get my hands...errr....eyes on this one to see what I think of the adaptation and move to a more "modern" setting for one of Shakespeare's historical plays. Has anyone else seen this one?

The Taming of the Shrew (1967)

The Taming of the Shrew has long been one of my favorite plays by Shakespeare, ever since I first read it in high school, so when my college Shakespeare class watched this film as a "fun" class, I was absolutely enthralled in the film.

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, this film stars two of the biggest actors of the era: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The costumes are fabulous, as is the acting. Taylor really captures the anger and reluctance of Katharina, and Burton is an excellent Petruchio!

I love the whole "battle of the sexes" that plays out in both the play and the film. It is fun and entertaining!

The Tempest (2012: Rated PG-13)

Considering that this one is a recent release, I'm surprised that I had never even heard of it until I was looking for film versions of The Tempest. I just read the play back in August of 2010, so you can imagine my shock! It was also nominated for Best Costume Design at the why haven't I read of it?

In any case, the film stars Helen Mirren as Prospero...a bit of gender and role switching from the original play (Prospero is a male character in the play). There is also quite a bit of CGI as noted by the reviews, and quite a few alterations from the play.

I still think it looks interesting, and since Helen Mirren is such an amazing actress, I think I will have to remember this one for the future!

Anonymous (2011: Rated PG-13)

I was really bummed that I didn't go and see this when it was in theaters this fall (I checked and none of the theaters in the area are still showing it).

This film focuses on the controversy surrounding Shakespeare's authorship. Taking place during the failed Essex revolution, the film portrays the Earl of Oxford as the true author of the Shakespearean works.

I'm curious to see what the film has to say, as well as whether it references any real evidence to back up that statement. :) I am team Will Shakespeare from Stratford, so unless someone finds some pretty compelling to prove that someone else is the true author, I won't be swayed. But I'm sure the film is entertaining and offers a lot to think about (for instance, how little we really know about the past!).

Julius Caesar (1953)

The oldest adaptation on this list and one that I really enjoy, is this 1953 adaptation of Julius Caesar with the dreamy Marlon Brando as Antony.

This is a well-done and fairly accurate representation of the play, and I really love the scenery, costumes, and the actors in this one. The story of Julius Caesar is one that really interests me, and since finishing the play in the most recent readathon, I've been thinking about reading a little more about Mr. Caesar.

In any case, the movie is a wonderful old classic, and you should really think about watching it at some point.

And come on, Brando? Yes please.

Coriolanus (2011: Rated R)

Besides the fact that this has Gerard Butler in it (as a Spartan of Michigan State, I have a certain affection for Butler and 300), I love that this new adaptation is taking on one of the Bard's more unfamiliar plays!

This one will hit the theaters a little later this month, and even my husband is excited to go see it! Of course, I am curious to see how close they will keep the film to the feeling of the play. Will they keep the language (always my first concern)? You can tell by the trailers that they have modernized the era and such-obviously there are no tanks in Shakespeare's original. But, I have high hopes that the film will capture the spirit and power of the story that Shakespeare told.

Anyone else planning on seeing this in the theater?

Othello (1995: Rated R)

I actually have this one set up with Netflix as a film I WILL watch before the end of the month. Like I said above, I haven't read Othello yet, but I am anxious to get to it.

Since Kenneth Branagh is is fabulous Shakespearean actor, I have really high hopes for this somewhat recent interpretation of the play. I think that Branagh really understands the underlying meanings of Shakespeare's plays and always finds a way to bring them to life.

(Do you know that we have Branagh to thank for the "recent" revival of interest in turning the Bard's plays into film? yep, his fault).

For those that have read the play AND seen the movie, is this a good adaptation?

West Side Story (1961)

I'm kind of scared to admit that I haven't seen this one either! I know enough about it to say that West Side Story is a "modern" interpretation of the Romeo and Juliet story.

Instead of Italy, the story is set in New York City. Our star-crossed lovers come from rival gangs and the expected drama ensues.

I remember that we almost convinced our ninth grade teacher to show this to us instead of the old version of the actual play, but she said no (something about the violence level?). This is definitely a movie that has been on my radar ever since, so I know that at some point I'll cave and watch it.

Shakespeare in Love (1998: Rated R)

I'm almost a bit embarrassed to say that I love this movie. It is one of the films I watch when I've had a crappy day. This movie takes a very interesting approach to the inspiration behind Shakespeare's great love story in Romeo and Juliet by having Will fall in love with the beautiful Viola. Their love story inspires his writing of the play.

One of the things I love about this movie is the other pieces of the era we get as well-from boys playing female roles, to the fights and violence, to the grandeur or Elizabeth's court.

And one of my favorite parts is watching Ben Affleck play a pompous actor. Cracks me up every time. :)

No really, the movie is a good romance, and it did win a bunch of Oscars!

The Merchant of Venice (2004: Rated R)

This is another play coming up in my reading pile this month, so this is another movie waiting its turn in the Netflix queue. Again, I was surprised at finding this one, since I don't remember it hitting theaters (perhaps I just have a bad memory).

This play focuses a lot on racial tension, especially in regards to Jews. From reviews I have read online, the film is a fairly accurate depiction of the play. I am also curious to see Al Pacino in a Shakespearean role, since that isn't what I am used to!

The film also stars Jeremy Irons, who is a fabulous actor as well, so I will go into this one with high hopes!

Henry V (1989: Rated PG-13)

This movie is the film that started the "modern" craze of adapting the Bard's plays for the big screen (as I started to say above). Directed by Kenneth Branagh, this film focuses on the king of the same name, who battled his way into France.

Branagh did a fabulous job with this one (I read the play and watched the film in college). Again, it is a fairly accurate representation and it really brings the battle and hardship to life in a way that the play cannot. But mostly, I love Branagh in this...well, I love Branagh in anything (he plays Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets if you didn't know). But he shines here.

And we have this film to think for the other Shakespearean films that emerged in the 1990s and 2000s. That is a big deal.

Romeo + Juliet (1996: Rated PG-13)

I was 11 when this came out, and I remember it being a big deal because of Leo. This was around the whole Leonardo CRAZE, which I was sadly a part of. And at my young age, I really loved this movie. What teenage girl doesn't love the idea of Romeo and Juliet?

Anyway, this is definitely a different interpretation of the play. Director Baz Luhrmann took quite a few liberties by placing this in a more modern setting, complete with crazy Hawaiian shirts, cars, and guns. The movie is mostly in line with the language of the play (they do use lines from the end of the play at the beginning of the movie, which I don't like or understand), but the movie is still good.

And hey, young Leo. :)

Hamlet (1990: Rated PG)

I purposefully chose this version over the 1996 version (starring Kenneth Branagh of course) because I've seen this one. ;) We actually watched this one as part of my AP English class in high school, so I have some fond memories.

And hey, I think it's funny that Mel Gibson is in it. :) No, I actually really enjoy this version, crazy Gibson and all. There are some great visuals in it, plus it has some other fabulous actors. Glenn Close is wonderful as Gertrude. And the one and only Helena Bonham Carter is Ophelia. And if you know anything about her, you'll know that the role of Ophelia is perfect for her.

This is a great choice, especially if you are looking for a film that uses much of the same language!

Romeo and Juliet (1968: Rated G or PG-13 depending on where you look)

I think this is Director Zeffirelli's masterpiece, but I'm not enough of a film nut to back that up with tons of knowledge. ;) Anyway, this is probably one of the most accurate representations of Shakespeare's work on the big screen in regards to language, costumes, and era.

I really love the older feel of this film, and I was in love with it from the first time we watched it as ninth graders. The actors are absolutely amazing, especially John McEnery who plays Mercutio (probably my favorite Shakespearean character).

I should warn you that the movie is often labeled as G or PG. There is some very obvious nudity in the scene where Romeo leaves Juliet after spending the night with her. Be forewarned!

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999: Rated PG-13)

As one of my favorite comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream holds a very dear place in my heart. This movie is another that I love to watch after a crappy day, as it always makes me smile.

Since the play has such a magical, fun-loving quality, I love that the film captures the forest and the hi-jinks that ensue. The cast is great, but my favorite is Stanley Tucci as the mischievous Puck. He really captures the role of the sly fairy responsible for all the mix-ups!

I also think that Michelle Pfeiffer does a great job as Titania. Other actors include Kevin Kline, Rupert Everett, Calista Flockhart, and Christian Bale (pre-scary Batman voice).

10 Things I Hate About You (1999: Rated Pg-13)

Probably my favorite Shakespearean "spoof," 10 Things I Hate About You captures everything I love about The Taming of the Shrew. Made into a modern teen comedy, this one is just plain hilarious. In addition to the romancing and battle of the sexes, it puts in a lot of modern humor that I think Shakespeare would approve of.

The cast is also great: Heath Ledger, Julia stiles, Andrew Keegan, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to name a few. They all do a great job of capturing the spirit of the original play-but don't think you'll hear a lot of iambic pentameter-this was merely inspired by the bard's play.

Some of my favorite scenes include Ledger's serenade by the soccer field, the paintball fight, the school counselor and her romance novel, and Gordon-Levitt's character.

Much Ado About Nothing (1993: Rated PG-13)

Hand's down my favorite Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing is also one of my all-time favorite movies. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, it really is a great example of the Bard's play. It has great music and imagery, as well as one of the best casts in any Shakespearean adaptation: Kenneth Branagh, Kate Beckinsale, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, and Michael Keaton.

Really, it shouldn't work, but it does. Reeves absolutely cracks me up as Don John the Bastard, and Thompson is amazing as the sharp-tongued Beatrice. Keaton plays Dogberry, the "clown" character, and he is simply amazing!

If there is one adaptation you watch this month, please make it be this one-I promise you'll love it! :)

There you have it, 20 movie adaptations of Shakespeare's plays. I hope that one or two (or all 20) grabbed you in some way. Please consider watching one in celebration of Shakespeare Reading Month, or mark it down for future reference.

And, if you have watched one that didn't make my list, please tell us about it in the comments! I am looking for more recommendations, and I am sure others are too!


  1. I've seen the Zefferelli Romeo and Juliet a few times...always makes me sad...and I've seen the one with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio. I didn't like the Danes DiCaprio version; it was just too futuristic for me (almost like Mad Maxx film). One of our British Lit teachers always shows the Mel Gibson version of Hamlet every semester so I've seen it a couple of times. It's a dark one, but it should be I think. Gibson has always played people who lose their minds well. I would love to see the Elizabeth Taylor version of Taming of the Shrew and Anonymous. I'm just coming into the controversy about who wrote Shakespeare's plays so that's all very new and intriguing to me.
    I will also have to check out Much Ado about Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream since you gave them such great reviews :) Of course, I can't watch any of the movies until I read/re-read the plays :)

  2. I've seen and loved most of these. Shame your teacher didn't let you watch WSS in addition to R&J-I remember watching both in class.

    I adore Shakespeare in Love too-one of my fave Best Picture winners and just a great hilarious comedy-romance.

    I'm also a big fan of She's The Man-one of my family's favorite movies. I'm hoping to read Twelfth Night this year so that I have a greater understanding of how they compare.

  3. I've seen the Zefferelli Romeo & Juliet and it's really good -- we watched in high school instead of actually reading the play!! It's good though.

    I think my favorite modern Shakespeare adaptation in a modern setting is Ten Things I Hate About You -- Heath Ledger was just great, makes me so sad that he's gone. And I'll always love Much Ado About Nothing with Ken and Em before their divorce. Le sigh.

  4. Might I also suggest 2 Japanese adaptations by Akira Kurosawa? Ran, which is based on King Lear and Throne of Blood which is Macbeth. Even to someone who doesn't understand Japanese it was really powerful.
    Thanks for the great list of movie recommendations. Lots to check out :)

  5. Man how I love watching Shakespeare movies! I've seen many of these. I think my all-time favorites are Branagh's Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing and 10 Things I Hate About You. I'm also a big fan of Shakespeare in Love. I recently saw an adaptation of As You Like It with Bryce Dallas Howard. It was really fun.

    I can't wait to watch both Coriolanus and Anonymous at some point this year. I'm also really excited about The Tempest with Mirren. That's one of my favorite plays and I've seen it live twice.

  6. Oh, you have to watch West Side Story! I'm not really a big R&J fan, but I love this musical. I also love Much Ado About Nothing, which I WILL watch again this year. I need to read the play first, though.

    Part of me can't believe how many adaptations there are out there, even though I know how popular Shakespeare has been over the years. I'm really curious about the upcoming Coriolanus, which is why I'm hoping to read it this month.

  7. I love this post!

    I have seen the McKellen Richard III and it's very good. McKellen is powerful and terrifying in that role.

    The Branagh Othello is great as well, mostly because of Branagh's performance. His Iago is one of my favorite Shakespearean performances. AND I believe this is the first film version of Othello that actually uses a black actor for Othello.

    One last thing (because I know my comment is getting long) the '99 Midsummer movie is one of my favorites. It's so light-hearted and fun (and a great crappy day movie).

  8. I should watch a couple of these soon. I did see the '95 Othello, which I really loved.

  9. Woohoo! You even got my fave one in there: 10 Things I Hate About You. :) I need to watch more of these. I've seen quite a few of them in school, but some I've missed over the years.

  10. Oh my goodness, I ADORE this post, and now you have me wanting to watch EVERY one of these adaptions! I am especially curious about the one being released next month, and the comedy spoofs, and o. I LOVE Shakespeare in Love and really liked Hamlet though I haven't seen it since I finally read the play! Maybe I'll reread it then watch the movie, one of these days.

    Also, I had NO IDEA The Lion King had Shakespearean roots!

  11. Romeo and Juliet with little Leo - lmao, I remember that movie cracked me up in high school, but I do really like the '68 version.
    10 Things I Hate About You, I LOVE. Plus the teacher is super funny...maybe like you?? Just kidding you dont write sex novels hahah.
    I really wanna watch the Tempest though, since that is my favorite Shakespeare pay.

  12. This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

  13. I just finished a class on Hamlet and we watched many movie adaptations as part of it. I like the Branaugh and Jacobi versions the best. One thing I would recommend is to watch various versions of the same scene or soliloquy back to back to see the various interpretations the actors give to the same words. For example, look at Jacobi's and Branaugh's versions of the speech that starts "O what a rogue and peasant slave am I" and ends "the play's the thing in which I'll catch the conscience of the king." Same words, different interpretations.

  14. I love Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet. As far as I remember, it's the only movie to have all of Hamlet, the entire play. Romeo + Juliet, Much ado ..., 10 Things I hate, The Taming of the Shrew - all excellent movies.

  15. I now really want to watch/rewatch all of these! I can't believe I still haven't seen Henry V with Kenneth Branagh> I love him, and that's probably my favorite play. And I didn't realize Marlon Brando was in a version of Julius Caesar! Thankful I have Netflix and I think they have most of these on the streaming service!

  16. Get Over It is one of my favorites... and, of course, you couldn't be young in the 90s and not love 10 Things I Hate About You!

    I enjoyed the recent film adaptation of The Tempest (with Helen Mirren) and I love the DiCaprio/Daines version of Romeo and Juliet, too.

    One of my favorite ol' drama film adaptations is the Derek Jarman version of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II. It's out there, but so good.

  17. I am not generally a movie person but I do like watching the Shakespeare films...although I haven't seen many of the spoofs. Really looking forward to She's the Man, though. Sounds hilarious! Haven't read the play yet but did see a movie version of the play before.