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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What’s your favorite cinematic adaptation of a Shakespeare play?

Another question in honor of my trip to the once hometown of the Bard and the current base of the Royal Shakespeare company:

What’s your favorite cinematic adaptation of a Shakespeare play?

Consider the question as broadly as you like, but keep it limited to movies adapted from the plays, not movies about Shakespeare himself (so 10 Things I Hate About You counts, but Shakespeare in Love doesn’t.)
I’d probably have to say that my own favorite is one of Kenneth Branagh’s: either his Much Ado About Nothing, in which the sunshine and food and wine of Tuscany are as much characters as the characters; or his Love’s Labour’s Lost, which weaves pop standards into the story to glorious musical effect. Though Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet is absolutely electric in how modern it feels.

And thee?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Well, you took mine. I was also going to say Much Ado About Nothing. :)

  • weetiger3

    There are many that I like a lot and as my favorite I’m torn between Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and his Hamlet. I think I’ll go with Hamlet.

  • Typhin

    I agree, Branagh’s Henry V. Or of course, for us geeks, Forbidden Planet. :-) Shakespeare in Space!

  • Christina

    I too love Branagh’s Much Ado and his Henry V. I am definitely not a big fan of his LLL, though.

    My other favorite would have to be Julie Taymor’s Titus.

  • Gee

    I love so many Shakespeare film adaptations. It’s dificult to choose just one.

    One which I will always stop and watch if I come across it TV channel hopping is Olivier’s Henry V. I’m drawn in by the framing notion that starts with a performance at the (Elizabethan) Globe and then moves into ‘reality’. The play text was cut to make it more suited as a rallying call at the end of the Second World War leading up to D-day, but that doesn’t detract from it for me, given its context.
    Highlights are Harry’s stirring “Once more unto the breech” speech and the spectacular charge of the French knights.

    If I could be allowed to choose another it would be “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter”. :-)

  • Althea

    Mine is the Michael Hoffman “Midsummer Night’s Dream” – it’s sweet, lively, and gentle, and treats the characters well. It’s particularly the treatment of Bottom that impressed me, and Kevin Kline’s performance in it. Well cast, well edited, beautifully filmed.

    I also agree with Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” – absolutely amazing interpretation. Defined “clever.”

  • Pollas

    10 Things I Hate About You is probably my favorite. Though another I really love is Scotland, Pa.

  • Drave

    For me, it’s a tie between 10 Things I Hate About You and the Baz Luhrmann Romeo + Juliet.

  • pjowens75

    Literal translations don’t seem to work so well, but I would choose Zeffirelli’s 1968 “Romeo & Juliet” as the best here.

    As for best adaptation, I have to go with “West Side Story”, hands down.

  • I’ll go with Branagh’s Henry V, too. As for adaptations, I first think of Kurosawa’s Ran (adapted from King Lear).

    Both of the above are dwarfed by my affection for Slings and Arrows, the intentionally short-lived Canadian TV series set at a Shakespeare festival… but I know, that’s out of bounds under MaryAnn’s guidelines for this thread. :(

  • Strange Brew-

    Hamlet told largely from R&G’s perspective, but without all the pretension of R&G Are Dead.

  • GRJ

    I’m with Althea: Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo + Juliet.

    I found Titus so upsetting I had to turn it off; Christina is made of tougher stuff than I am, apparently.

  • Kathy A

    Branagh’s Henry V for me (Keanu detracts from the high score I’d give Much Ado otherwise), but I’m also a big fan of Ian McKellan’s Richard III, which is really fantastic.

  • Nice one, Vardulon! Strange Brew is great – and a surprisingly accurate re-telling of Hamlet, except with an Iago-like Max Von Sydow thrown into the mix just for fun. Definitely one of my all-time faves!

  • Yes, Strange Brew was a great movie, but I must admit that this has always been my favorite movie version of Hamlet.

    As for best adaptation, I have to go with “West Side Story”, hands down.

    Well, not necessarily the best adaptation but it’s my favorite version of that play.

  • Then, of course, there’s this–which shaped more of my initial memories of Shakespeare than I’d normally care to admit…

  • Joanne

    Ian McKellen’s Richard III, directed by Richard Loncraine. Utterly compelling – the alternative Thirties Britain it’s set in brings the piece to life. When I was doing A level English literature I somehow managed to persuade my teacher to let me write an extended essay comparing the McKellen film with the old Laurence Olivier version and the text. Olivier’s just seemed stilted compared to McKellen’s.

  • Paul

    But I enjoyed the pretension of R&G are Dead.

  • bats :[

    I have most of the films mentioned on DVD, and it’s too tough a call to make (yeah, probably Much Ado About Nothing), so I’ll just drop in Othello with Fishburn and Branagh.

  • David

    My first instinct was to say 10 Things I Hate About You but then I remembered She’s The Man, so I have to go with that.

  • Jo

    Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado wins hands down for me. I was listening to an audio book version starring the wonderful David Tennant the other day, and excepting only him, my mind’s eye was painting in the images from Branagh’s film.
    I may have to change my mind when I see Hamlet in December – I know it’s not strictly cinematic, but I’m on the edge of my seat with anticipation at seeing David Tennant’s great Dane at last.

  • Captain_Swing

    Forbidden Planet of course

  • Mim

    10 Things I Hate About You is a perenial favourite in this house, but I like Branagh’s Loves Labours Lost, too.

    And I’m with Jo in (probably) adding David Tennant’s Hamlet-to-be.

  • Lisa

    yeah Tennant’s Much Ado is so funny – people stare at me on the bus when I’m listening to it I’m laughing so hard. Hopefully his Hamlet will be my favorite adaption

    I like bits of Branagh’s works – I cannot sit thru his Hamlet tho it’s just tooooo long. However, I loved Adrian Lester in his productions of As you like it and Love’s Labour’s Lost and every time I watch him in these, I can’t believe he’s not a huge movie star. In saying that I always feel that Branagh directs with no confidence in the language.

    BL’S Romeo and Juliet is a clever adaption too it’s well thought out – I really liked the fed -ex explanation (why not call Romeo on your cell?)

  • Pat Mustard

    Always had something of a soft spot for the late-90’s ‘Twelfth Night’ (the one with Bonham-Carter, Ben Kingsley, Richard E. Grant et al); if we’re going Japanese I’d have to say Throne of Blood (how to get an authentic reaction from your actors in one easy lesson – unexpected arrows, anyone?).

    Is Pacino’s ‘Looking for Richard’ eligible under the rules?

  • Jane

    So many great ones listed here that I want to watch again or see for the first time.

    Like some others, I loved Ian McKellan’s Richard III, so perfect for the 1930’s!

    My family recently watched Shakespeare Retold from Netflix. It was a BBC production of 4 of the plays set in modern life. My husband is still raving about the wonderful “MacBeth” set in the kitchen of a fine restaurant. I really enjoyed the “Taming of the Shrew” more than any production I have ever seen of it.

    Finally, since I have to express Dr. Who love, I really enjoyed the “Othello” from a few years ago with Christopher Eccleston as the Iago character. Modern language and set in a police station.

  • Grinebiter

    @Jane: Not Shakespeare but right next door: did you see Eccleston in the punk version of “The Revenger’s Tragedy”?

  • Jane

    @Grinebiter: Yes! I really loved it – especially the modern(?)setting against the period language. Eccleston’s performance really worked for me. Also, Eddie Izzard!

  • Joanne

    Pat Mustard: me too on Twelfth Night. I think Ben Kingsley’s Fool is superb.

  • Pat Mustard

    Joanne: Agreed! Kingsley’s turn as Sir Topaz is wonderful!

    I really enjoyed the “Taming of the Shrew” more than any production I have ever seen of it.

    Forgotten about that; wasn’t that stuck on some of the other ‘Shakespeare Retolds’, but Rufus Sewell as Petruchio the crossdressing Earl – brilliant!

  • Gemmabeta

    I absolutely adore Ian Mckellen’s Richard III, the update to the 1930s was inventive and spot on, and McKellen’s Richard has got to be the slimiest and most badass villain of the century. I also have a soft spot for Branagh’s Hamlet for its sheer glitz and high production values (not to mention the “spot-the-cameo” drinking game).

    Kenneth Branagh as Iago in Othello probably deserves a mention too.

  • I will always be partial to Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet for many reasons… the 1968 Michael York being one of them.

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