While many of us have had the either pleasure or chore of reading the great English bard in high school, there is something left to be had in the reading. Shakespeare wrote plays after all, which were meant to be performed. Of course, plays are not always for everyone-but luckily, many of the playwright’s greatest hits have been filmed by some of Hollywood’s greatest stars. So even if you can’t go to the Globe theatre to catch Hamlet live, you can tune up your satellite TV and watch the brooding Dane in HD-almost as good, I’d say, as the live version.
My Own Private Idaho: bazinga This is an adaptation from director Gus Van Sant. While it does not strictly follow any one Shakespeare play, it does use a Falstaff plot-he of the Henry IV plays. The movie stars River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as two young friends who go on a journey from Idaho to Italy and Oregon, of personal revelation. The Reeves character, Scott, is based on Prince Hal the son of the king in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. My Own Private Idaho received much critical acclaim and you can catch it on the Independent Film Channel via satellite TV, or on the remastered HD DVD.
Romeo+Juliet: Directed by Aussie Baz Luhrman and starring Claire Danes and Leonardo Di Caprio, this is a modern remake of the Bard’s most famous romance. Luhrman fuses stunning visuals, e.g. balletic style gang violence with a trove of iconic religious imagery. The soundtrack is strictly rock and pop, giving the film a fresh, melancholic edge. Interestingly, the original language is left intact, making this one of the more original adaptations to come around. It also established the young DiCaprio’s reputation as a worldwide heartthrob. Anything less than HD wouldn’t do the film justice.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: From playwright Tom Stoppard, this play turned movie takes up Hamlet from the point of view of the messengers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, played by Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, respectively. It’s a brilliant piece of work, combining Shakespearean riffs on pastiche, dialogue and brooding.
Shakespeare in Love: This film sports a young Joseph Fiennes as the bard, who, as fate would have it suffers from a severe case of writer’s block. This romantic comedy comes from the one and only Tom Stoppard (see above). It takes on the subject of authorship, movie making, and forbidden love. This costume drama revived the tired genre. It is witty, subversive and lots of fun.
Richard III: Ian McKellen’s performance as king Richard III is excellent; incidentally, it was Mckellen who actually co-wrote the screenplay with director Loncraine. In this adaptation, the plot takes place in 1930’s Germany, amidst Fascists and Nazis. It is indeed an inspired revision of the play. Mckellen’s Richard is villainous and brilliant. The entire cast does a smashing job– Kristen Scott Thomas as Lady Anne, Robert Downey Jr. as Rivers, and Annette Benning as Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV. The Shakespearean language does not clash with the updated plot and the grace and style of the performances simply puts this film up there as one of the best adaptations you can find.
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