Monday, January 9, 2012

Shakespeare on Film

Just communicating with old friend and film buff John Higgins who recommended the Kevin Spacey RICHARD III. That led me to thinking (a rarity!) about what my favorite Shakespeare on film is. Here's a brief list, as there aren't all that many.

1) HAMLET: David Tennant's version. Doctor Who shines in this modern dress version of the play done so well that you are amazed at the new things you see; things you may have missed in the 100 odd times you have read or watched the play. Superb on all counts.

2) MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh there has never been, and probably will never be, an adaptation of a Shakespearian play with as much life and joy as this. Besides Branagh the stellar cast includes Denzel, Keanu, Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsdale, Robert Sean Leonard and Michael Keaton. Filmed in and around Umbria, this films pulsates with the joy of being young and being alive. Patrick Doyle's score is amazing as well.

3) ROMEO AND JULIET: The Zefferelli version (circa 1968) is the one that most people know (mainly through the beautiful soundtrack music) and beautiful it is, but I have always had a soft place in my heart for the 1955 version starring Laurence Harvey (pre -MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) and the beautiful Susan Shental, of whom I know nothing after this film. It has been out of the public eye for years but now appears on a new DVD. I saw it one time as a kid so I can't be sure if it holds up, but I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

4) MACBETH: Roman Polanski made this one after the Manson Family killed Sharon Tate and his unborn child, and the madness he must have been feeling comes through in every scene. (This is the one I used to show in 11th grade English.) A beautiful job. (Though I saw the Patrick Stewart version on stage and it blew me away, the film version of that production is said to be a knockout. Have that on my Netflix queue as well.

5) JULIUS CAESAR: Never cared for this play very much, but the combination of Brando and the great director Joseph Mankiewicz can't be beat. All star mid fifties MGM cast (Louis Calhern, Deborah Kerr et al, play the supporting roles.)

6) RICHARD III: Ian McKellan is truly evil and scheming in this beautifully filmed version of this Shakespeare classic. (If you want to see just how good he is, watch GODS AND MONSTERS after seeing this one and see this actor's amazing range.)

There are others, of course, i.e. MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM with Mickey Rooney and HENRY V (with Kenneth Branagh), but the six above are my picks for the best of the Bard.

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