Yesterday, a fellow student (Cabe) ruminated on the fact he felt that Kenneth Brannaugh’s “Much Ado About Nothing” was possibly the best Shakespeare film adaptation. I expected to have a quick response about what my favorite adaptation was (cuz I knew it weren’t that one) and was shocked to find myself without a film to stand behind. So of course, I fell asleep last night going over the list mentally, and have to confess that I still don’t have a clear winner. But here’s a list of some I’ve seen and how I feel about them. It’s funny to realize that I’ve spent much more time ranking Jane Austen film adaptations than Shakespeare’s. And here I thought I was all 16th century. Not so much, I guess.
The Olivier Films:
HENRY V: A lot like Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”. Very Fairy tale coloring book, not much reality.
RICHARD III: Olivier is AWESOME, creepy, funny, and I’ll admit it, sexy. Very important characteristics for Ricky 3.
HAMLET: BORING! And a really flighty, lame Ophelia.
The Kenneth Brannaugh Films:
HENRY V: the least melodramatic, though still pushing it a bit. But it’s my favorite of his: lots of dirt, injuries and downplaying of some of the play’s non sequitur comedic characters. Great to see young Christian Bale as well.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: Great teamwork between Emma & Kenneth, but the movie suffers from bad casting and scenery chewing. The concept is lovely, but the strokes are too broad for film.
HAMLET: Too long and too much marble. Brannaugh feels too old for the role, but I actually like knowing the sexual history of Ophelia and Hamlet- helps her part make more sense.
LOVE'S LABOURS LOST- adorable concept, horrible casting and even more dreadful musical numbers. If you’re gonna go there, you better do movie-musical like nobody’s business.
Franco Zeffirelli Films:
ROMEO & JULIET: I can’t help loving this version. It came at the right time for me, and despite often being annoyed by Olivia Hussey’s whiny voice, it’s a lovely adaptation of the play.
HAMLET: This was my favorite movie from 5th to 9th grade. Can’t quite say why. Great production design and an excellent cast, but Zeffirelli’s “mix-it-up” approach to screenplays leaves something wanting once you really know and love the play.
TITUS: Julie Taymor’s film is terrifyingly beautiful and infinitely disturbing. One of the scariest films I’ve ever seen, so I guess that’s worth some props. Don’t think I can ever see it again, though.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM: A mixed cast of great and dull that makes it not worth a revisit, but some beautiful work by Kevin Kline and Sam Rockwell.
RICHARD III: Fun time in Fascist-ville and a very creative adaptation, but the language gets lost in the concept and I like a younger Richard III (no offense Sir Ian)
MERCHANT OF VENICE: Someone tell Pacino he can’t do Shakespeare anymore. Period.
HAMLET: As much as I like movies where Ethan Hawke and Sam Shepard play father & son, I can’t get past having to endure Julia Stiles’ presence onscreen. Though I’d like to revisit this one in light of Bill Murray as Polonius.
"O", 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, etc: I will not honor any “Shakespeare in high school” adaptations with my comments, except that, again, I’ve been damaged by Julie Stiles’ presence onscreen.
Baz Luhrman’s ROMEO & JULIET:
I guess this one wins because I love anything Baz does and (no its not a “Shakespeare in high school”) it’s probably the best representation on film of what Shakespeare’s original audience experienced onstage. Though it’s hard for me to watch the film now because of it’s significance to me as a 16 yr old (it’s kinda like trying to read your middle school diary without wincing) there is a special corner of my heart for this one forever.