Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Shakespeare on Screen

To the high school kids who moan & groan, "Why do we have to read Shakespeare?"

Trust us librarians.  There is a reason why that guy has been sticking around for 400+ years.  So here's bit of help.  Just pick a good film, watch it, interpret it in your own way!

I love films and I love Shakespeare.  I try to catch as many new productions on stage as well as on screen.  Some are great, some are so-so, and some you don't want to bother.  Here's a list of my film favorites.

Hamlet (1996)
Watch the one with Kenneth Branagh with a star-studded cast. Skip the Mel Gibson one (1990).  But my real favorite is the BBC production with Kevin Kline playing Hamlet (1990).  Kevin Kline, you say?  He is actually a great Shakespearean actor.  Bonus at the end.  Fortinbras is played by breathtakingly handsome Rufus Sewell (of Cold Comfort Farm).  I have seen him on stage, and it turns out that he can't act.  Maybe that's why he was playing Fortinbras.  Life is fair.

The Merchant of Venice (2004)
To be precise, the film title was William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino in the lead role and Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes supporting.  Al Pacino makes a very good Shylock.

Coriolanus (2011)
Ralph Fiennes is Coriolanus in an unspecified contemporary civil war setting and Vanessa Redgrave takes a prize as the top-notch tiger mom.  You'll be glad she wasn't your mother.

Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Young Leonardo DiCaprio and young Claire Danes in modern Verona setting.  I grew up with very 60's Olivia Hussey's Juliet (1968) and still have a soft heart for it, but DiCaprio and Danes create some sparks together.  On the other hand, a recording on CD of this play with not-so-young Kenneth Branagh playing Romeo is very impressive. You can vividly imagine the young Romeo's agony in the temper tantrum he throws with tears and snot rolling on the floor in front of Friar Laurence. A must hear.

Henry V (1989)
Kenneth Branagh again.  Sorry, what can I say.  This one with Emma Thompson playing Princess Katherine when they were an item, and it shows.

Much Ado about Nothing (1993)
Emma Thompson, Michael Keaton, Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves?  Actually it works. Very entertaining.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
Not the best I've seen but how can you pass up Kevin Kline playing Nick Bottom wooing the fairy queen Michelle Pfeiffer.  Christian Bale plays Demetrius and Dominic West (HBO's The Wire) plays Lysander. 

So what kind of a guy was Shakepeare?  No problem.  Watch Shakespeare in Love (1999), and you'll already feel like you know him. My head bows to film directors and actors.  Thank you.   

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