Adaptations of Shakespeare
June 16, 2013 1:22 PM   Subscribe

What are the best tv or movie adaptations of Shakespeare's plays?
posted by Proginoskes to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure everyone has their own opinion on this, but for me, Kenneth Branagh's Henry V was the first film to make me really get why everyone made such a fuss about Shakespeare in school. And when his Much Ado About Nothing came out, I almost wore out the VHS of it. Couldn't get enough of it, and pretty much everyone I forced to watch it loved it as well, no matter what their previously held opinion of Shakespeare.
posted by harujion at 1:37 PM on June 16, 2013 [12 favorites]

Kenneth Branaghs Henry V is the best.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:37 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Coincidentally, there was a Guardian article about this very thing just the other day.

It, in turn, was sparked off by Joss Whedon's (OMG HEARTS IN MY EYES) upcoming low-budget but distinctly awesome-looking take on Much Ado About Nothing
posted by greenish at 1:38 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

The best Hamlet
posted by Artw at 1:49 PM on June 16, 2013

Hoo doggies, yes indeedy I'll second Potomac Avenue --- Kenneth Branagh's Henry V is far and away the best: he wipes the floor with Lawrence Olivier's version!

And the play itself is dated, but I love the scenery-chewing in the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton Taming of the Shrew.
posted by easily confused at 1:50 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

The best Richard III
posted by Artw at 1:50 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus is very good, so is Branagh's Hamlet and McKellen's Richard III.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:51 PM on June 16, 2013

Also I really do have a big soft spot for ROMEO + JULIET, Baztasticness and all.
posted by Artw at 1:52 PM on June 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

As a former English Teacher who had to teach Romeo and Juliet, I praise the gods for Baz Lehrman's Romeo + Juliet.

It's freaking excellent and it totally engaged the 14 year olds.

I am also anticipating Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:02 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

no love for Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet? its a gorgeous movie and a wonderful depiction of the play. its completely engrossing!
posted by supermedusa at 2:14 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

For recent stuff, I thought David Tennant's Hamlet was very good. I saw Joss Whedon's Much Ado last week with a non-Shakespeare fan and both of us loved it. It really is fantastic!
posted by platinum at 2:29 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm super-excited for Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing! I loved Julie Taymor's Titus (it's super-gory, but great), Branagh's Much Ado and Henry V. The parts of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet that work work REALLY well and no one is more luminously beautiful than Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio are in that movie. (I'm happy to hear that teenagers still watch the film in English class! It came out when I was 16 or 17 and all us lit nerds went batshit for it.)

If you're a Shakespeare fan, you really could do a lot worse than to spend a few weekends watching the entirety of the Canadian show "Slings and Arrows," about a Shakespeare festival. There are three seasons and they do a different play every season (season one is Hamlet). The show is loads of fun and there's tons of bonus in-jokes for theater geeks.
posted by Aquifer at 2:39 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing Branagh Henry V.

More about Shakespeare than a play proper, but I love Looking For Richard.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:45 PM on June 16, 2013

This is gonna be a "for experts only" answer, and will only be apparent if you squint - but, I think that My Own Private Idaho made a decent adaptation of Henry IV, Part I and Part II.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:46 PM on June 16, 2013

The ethan hawke hamlet always went along with the dicaprio romeo for me - both modernized and updated, though I guess hamlet in a video store won't make sense anymore... They were definitely fun though.

I probably prefer the kenneth branagh hamlet but really the best part about plays is seeing them interpreted multiple ways.

I enjoyed julie taymor's tempest as well, though it did have weak spots. Still, there was enough going on to make it worth seeing.
posted by mdn at 2:48 PM on June 16, 2013

The Ethan Hawke Hamlet is at the top for me - modernized with a beautiful attention to matching modern equivalents to the concepts in the text, engaging and emotionally strong.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 2:50 PM on June 16, 2013

If you're going to watch the Branagh Hamlet, make sure it's the complete, uncut version. They released a heavily edited version for theaters and it really doesn't hold a candle to the complete. Another film not mentioned yet (though no good if you need Shakespeare's original text) is Kurosawa's Ran--a simply wonderful adaptation of King Lear. His Throne of Blood, similarly, is a pretty terrific version of Macbeth. The Brando/Gielgud/James Mason Julius Caesar is pretty terrific.

They are more or less just filmed stage versions, but there are some gems in the 1980s BBC "Complete Shakespeare." Look, in particular, for any directed by Jonathan Miller. His The Winter's Tale is just fabulous. The Anthony Hopkins Othello (with Bob freakin Hoskins as Iago!) and the Michael Hordern Lear are also fantastic.

Everyone's mentioned it, by I've seen Whedon's Much Ado and it is utterly, utterly terrific. Then again, so is the Branagh one, in a rather different way. I couldn't pick between Emma Thompson and Amy Acker as Beatrice; they are both sublime.
posted by yoink at 3:04 PM on June 16, 2013

Oh and, again, not for the Shakespeare purist, but Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight (which draws on bits and pieces of all the Falstaff plays) is a remarkable movie.

And in a totally different register: the Michelle Pfeiffer/Calista Flockhart/Kevin Kline Midsummer Night's Dream is badly underrated--although perhaps the one you should check out first is the Jimmy Cagney (ayup), Olivia De Havilland, Dick Powell version from 1935.
posted by yoink at 3:09 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

The absolute best Richard II (no, not Richard III, Richard II!) has to be BBC's the Hollow Crown. Most of it is due to Ben Whishaw in the title role, but the production is well done as well.

Seconding Zefirrelli's, Romeo and Juliet. It is the sort of production that strikes you as definitive. Both a product of its time and yet also timeless.

It is hard to recommend more. The best I've seen have been dramatic productions. TV and Movie adaptations usually miss the point.
posted by vacapinta at 3:26 PM on June 16, 2013

Ian McKellen did King Lear, and it is very good. However, I am very fond of the James Earl Jones version of King Lear.

Also, and seconding Slings and Arrows for Shakespeare lovers.
posted by gudrun at 4:11 PM on June 16, 2013

nthing Branagh's Henry V and Hamlet, and McKellan's Richard III.

Olivier's King Lear is quite strong -- to me, it's much more emotionally affecting as a performance than his Hamlet, no doubt because it came so near the end of his career and was his final Shakespeare performance. Great cast, too (including Diana Rigg, John Hurt, and Leo McKern).

The absolute best Richard II (no, not Richard III, Richard II!) has to be BBC's the Hollow Crown.

Out of curiosity: what's your opinion of the Henry IV episodes in The Hollow Crown? It's probably my favorite of Shakespeare's histories, so I'd love to see a good adaptation.
posted by scody at 4:14 PM on June 16, 2013

I agree with the recommendation of several films already mentioned. Highlights: The style of Branagh's Henry V was really groundbreaking at the time it came out. (I remember one reviewer remarking on the novelty of seeing a Shakespearean actor letting visible blobs of spittle fly at the camera lens as he gave one of the speeches.) Also, one of my favorite moments in Shakespeare filmography is when Robert MacNeil, of MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour fame, reads the Prince's lines in Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet.

I am also partial to watching Forbidden Planet alongside a reading of The Tempest.
posted by Orinda at 4:20 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed the Macbeth film with Patrick Stewart. I also second the recommendation for Julie Taymor's Titus, though I would say it is more brutal than gory.
posted by Comet Bug at 4:29 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really adored the Trevor Nunn version of The Merchant of Venice.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 4:35 PM on June 16, 2013

The best is a double feature of Derek Jarman's The Tempest and Peter Greenaway's(link nsfw) Prospero's Books. In very different ways, these two films have an element of pure spectacle that often gets missed in shakespeare adaptations: the weird mix of profoundly human characters speaking beautiful language with comic relief and music numbers.

Also, Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (Macbeth) and especially Ran (King Lear) are amazing.
posted by velebita at 4:55 PM on June 16, 2013

Branagh for Hamlet. I have also heard good things about the Russian adaptions of King Lear and Hamlet by Kozintsev.
posted by SollosQ at 5:26 PM on June 16, 2013

Even if you don't want to watch Olivier's Henry V all the way through, you should definitely tune in for the opening--a reconstruction of actors performing the play at the Globe. (Branagh's opening, with Jacobi in the theatre, is a tip of the hat to Olivier.) For reworkings instead of "straight" Shakespeare, nthing Kurosawa's Ran and Throne of Blood, with the addition of The Bad Sleep Well (Kurosawa's take on Hamlet). Alan Bennett's The Madness of King George is another twist on Lear.

I've had success using the Ian Holm and Ian McKellen Lears in class, as well as the recent David Tennant Hamlet.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:41 PM on June 16, 2013

I would nth almost all the Kenneth Branagh adaptations, Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, Julie Taymor's Titus, and the Richard Loncraine (i.e., Sir Ian McKellen) Richard III. They all have great performances and creative storytelling, and hold up on repeat viewings (of which I have done a LARGE number!). The Patrick Stewart Macbeth was also very good, although I've only seen it once.

Many of the older adaptations are also very good, but I personally find them less accessible.

Some adaptations that I did not particularly enjoy: the Fishburne/Branagh Othello, the Michelle Pfeiffer/Rupert Everett version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Julie Taymor's The Tempest, Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost.

And now, I'm off to watch the David Tennant Hamlet, because YES PLEASE!
posted by Carmelita Spats at 7:06 PM on June 16, 2013

Most of mine have already been mentioned, but I gotta mention the "Atomic Shakespeare" episode of Moonlighting. When I finally saw Shrew for real, I was disappointed the original was less awesome.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:07 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Polanski version of the Scottish play. It really feels like a medieval horror story.
posted by musofire at 7:45 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I hadn't really read or seen any Shakespeare beyond the requirements of high school English, but Branagh's Henry V prompted 17 year-old me to seek out every Shakespeare-in-the-park/-parking lot production I could find. I still do—looks like I'm going to be able to catch twelve locally this summer (whee!). So, if instilling bardophilia is the yardstick, I adjudge that film the best.

On the other hand, if you already know the text, and want something different, then Prospero's Books! It's not your typical production of The Tempest, but it's Peter Greenaway, and Gielgud is just so very. If they'd release a Blu-ray, I'd be tempted to dedicate a wallmounted screen to it, looping forever.
posted by mumkin at 8:20 PM on June 16, 2013

Polanski's Macbeth is amazing. It's possibly my favorite Shakespeare adaptation. It definitely has a '70s feeling about it, and man I hate that guy, but wow is it a good movie.
posted by emcat8 at 11:11 PM on June 16, 2013

I really enjoyed the Reduced Shakespeare Company's "The Complete Works of Shakespeare."

Or MST3k presenting the worst "Hamlet" ever.
posted by Marky at 12:35 AM on June 17, 2013

There is a wikipedia article about screen adaptations with a complete listing, if you're interested.

There are lots of good suggestions above. I would also venture Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as a really interesting play based on the two minor characters from Hamlet. However, Stoppard's own screen version, which should be half decent because it stars Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, is not very good.

The Zeffirelli version of the Taming of the Shrew, mentioned upthread, makes for interesting watching because it stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:00 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Quickly dropping in to heartily recommend the Whedon Much Ado, and I say this as a big, big fan of the Brannagh version. It was great.
posted by ominous_paws at 6:47 AM on June 17, 2013

Orson Welles' Othello.
posted by Chenko at 11:51 AM on June 17, 2013

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