In junior high, I fell in love with Shakespeare. A troupe from New York performed “Hamlet” at the local civic center, while my English teacher assigned us to study “Romeo and Juliet.” I was caught and held fast by Shakespeare’s words and emotions, and I haven’t let go.
As result, movies of Shakespeare plays are doubly enjoyable to me. The universality of the plays spans the decades, as filmmakers have discovered and reinterpreted the work in celluloid and their own visions.
And for those who believe the plays of some old English dude are out of time and not relevant, they simply have to go to the movies, or slip in a DVD to be proven dead wrong.
“The play is the thing,” as William wrote in “Hamlet,” but he might as well said, “The film is the thing.”
With Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in theaters, here are some of my favorite Shakespeare films in no particular order.
“A Midsummer’s Night Dream” (1935 ) – This version is pure screwball and magic with a wonderful Mickey Rooney as Puck and a hilarious James Cagney as Nick Bottom. Get a taste on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTeQDMfq8Gw
“Romeo and Juliet” ( 1968) – The first film version of the star-crossed lovers to feature actors who actually looked like teenagers. The music, the costumes and Franco Zeffierelli. Still exquisite.
“Romero + Juliet“ (1996 ) – The Baz Luhrmann version is poignant, frenetic and imaginative. Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes have the heated chemistry of rocket fuel.
“Titus” (1999)- Julie Taymor’s adds her great visuals to this rather lurid tale of the Bard. The first few minutes are breathtaking. A great cast including Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange.
“Richard III” (1995) – Ian McKellen is glorious, charming and terrifying as the morally and physically twisted king. Also with Annette Benning and Robert Downey Jr.
“Othello” (1952) -Orson Welles’ version remains striking and one of the best. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09NWcKA7JKw
“Coriolanus” (2011) – Vanessa Redgrave steals the show in this fierce and bloody tale of a prideful warrior played by Ralph Fiennes, who also directed.
“Henry V” (1989) – Kenneth Branagh’s rousing version is a play within a play. But also watch Laurence Olivier’s great take and compare their Saint Crispin’s Day speeches.
“Hamlet” (1948) – I give Olivier the better version here than Branagh’s. You can see why Olivier was considered one of the best actors of his generation. Don’t bother with the Mel Gibson adaption.
“Hamlet” ( 2000) -Ethan Hawke effectively puts the Dane in modern times. Also with Bill Murray, yes Bill Murray, who does great as usual. Entertaining.
“Taming of the Shrew” (1967) – A downright fun take with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton doing battle and falling in love. Zeffierelli again.
“Macbeth” (1948) – Orson Welles’s adaption is troubling, strange and totally watchable.