General: Shakespeare Plays & Movie Adaptations


The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Hey all, I really enjoyed more than a few of Shakespeare's tragedies and Comedies over the years, just through the cultural osmosis of school and education and literate friends. Since we don't get to the theatre very often these days (due to a combination of cultural decline, social distancing, and vax passes) I would be curious to hear from others who enjoy Shakespeare or Shakespeare-inspired movies or miniseries.

I was inspired to bring this up because I recently watched a really good retelling of Hamlet in the 2018 Film Ophelia. It was rated PG-13, which is a breath of fresh air since so much medieval-inspired or fantasy seems to have a lot of gratuitous sex and violence. As the title suggests the story revolves around the title character, and generally speaking the film focuses much more on female characters and perspectives than in the original Shakespearean play. In spite of that though I couldn't pick up on any pink-hat-ism or woke feminism in it at all -- it was all handled very well and fairly. The creative liberties taken by the producers added to the drama as well, rather than just being flourishes for the sake of artistic license. The worst thing I could say about was that obviously a lot of new dialogue was added, and in spite of not studying or seeing Hamlet in ages I could tell which lines were taken directly from Shakespeare and which were written by the screenwriters. There are some small logical leaps in transitioning between scenes but the pacing and emotional drama was tight enough for me to overlook those, OSIT. This is entirely a layperson's opinion though, so a seasoned Shakespeare veteran may have their own share of opinions opposing mine. :P

Trailer is below:
Nice post Whitecoast. Thanks for your thoughts on the Ophelia film which I hadn't come across before and I'll definitely have a watch as it looks to be a very interesting premise for a film as well as an intriguing perspective on the over-exposed Hamlet yarn. Considering the central symbolic importance of the female characters in all of the plays (irrespective of the number of lines they speak) it seems to me a totally valid decision especially regarding Ophelia who is the lost Gnostic heart and soul of the tragedy. Its also worth remembering that as those who created the Shake-speare mythos borrowed just about every story line from elsewhere (with only likely The Tempest being a wholly original) that reworking scraps of stories is very much a Shake-speare thing!

If you are interested in a full version of Hamlet the play, Peter Brook's brilliantly acted and intimately captured version - pared back and yet essentially true to the original - is to my mind streets apart from all the others. Yes, its really a theatre production transferred to film, but it's so clearly and beautifully inhabited by every single performer, especially Adrian Lester in the lead (making the dense thought and language completely alive, real and accessible), it still manages to deliver big time on the highly formal and ritualized otherness of the play as a whole (avoiding all the traps with regard to egotism in performance and loss of focus in the face of its complex sweep).

As films (rather than filmed captures of the plays) there are only a few that stand out for me.

Again Peter Brook and his iconic, austere black and white version of King Lear (1971) with the unfathomable artistry of the one and only Paul Scofield in the lead. There's no full version available on YouTube but this clip gives a sense of it's bleak brilliance:

A personal favorite of mine is Julie Taymors stunning film Titus (based on the very early play Titus Andronicus)

Not only does it cleverly retain the sense of a performance whilst being entirely modern and filmic, it also captures the savage, terrifying, profoundly spiritual nature of Shake-speare's cosmic drama. Its a play that the scholars shudder at and like to pretend their beloved genteel Bard couldn't have really penned - but its more true as a play and as a film to Shake-speare than all those pretty, fluffy, drab takes on his work that they so prefer in their deluded comfort. Plus you get two stand-out performances from Anthony Hopkins and of all people Jessica Lange.

Staying on the Roman theme - a big shout out to actor Ralph Fiennes ultra assured debut as a director (whilst also playing the lead) of Coriolanus. A marvelously executed film with a totally appropriate contemporary setting - hardcore stuff and utterly gripping. Again no full version on YouTube but here's the trailer for a sense of it.

And finally a shout out for the 1996 Buz Luhrmann Romeo & Juliet with the young Leonardo DiCaprio. Not one for the purists but it captures something special about what is in fact a deeply disturbing play.

I can think of a few more of worthy note but we'll leave it at that for now.
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