GIMME FIVE: Shakespeare Adaptations


April is named Shakespeare month because we know that sometime during this month in 1564, the badass bard entered our world. The date is sketchy (most people lean toward 23), but his baptism day was April 26, the first written account of the Man Who Would Change Literature. More than any other playwright in history, William Shakespeare is endlessly adaptable. Just picking five of film treatments is like picking five Ben & Jerry’s flavors—it’s deeply unfair because it all depends on your tastes and mood. Be that as it may . . . Five Pretty Freaking Cool Shakespeare Films.

5) Titus (1999)


Calling theatre director Julie Taymore’s first foray into filmmaking bizarre might be a slight understatement: her anachronistic spin on Shakespeare’s gruesome revenge tragedy is visually captivating with a drop of crazy. It’s as if the audience is watching a literary-visual experiment explode right before their eyes. Fantastic performances from Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, and Alan Cumming make this a worthwhile adventure in viewing, if only to ask yourself a few hours later, “What the hell just happened?”.

4) Ten Things I Hate About You (1999)

10 things sister

In the same year, Shakespeare went to high school, a pairing that has been repeated several times, in this smart and funny take on The Taming of the Shrew. For many people, this is when we met Heath Ledger and his cool-boy Patrick persona that guy every girl (or at least this girl) wanted to notice her in high school. Bonus points for Julia Stiles’ first outing with Shakespeare, which she would repeat in Hamlet and O.

3) Hamlet (1948)

laurence olivier & eileen herlie - hamlet 1948

No Shakespeare list can exist without Sir Lawrence Olivier. It’s a rule. For real. While Kenneth Branagh’s  later version was more complete and visual, Olivier’s is all about an actor at the top of his game in one of the most famous roles in history. It’s just damn fine acting of a stellar piece of literature.

2) Throne of Blood (1957)


Japanese director Akira Kurosawa made several films based on the works of Shakespeare, but this classic samurai take on Macbeth is epic. Not only does the movie capture the destructive nature of ambition, it shows how universal Shakespeare’s themes can be. The Japanese setting works perfectly. And Isuzu Yamada as Lady Macbeth is chilling.

1) Henry V (1989)


As I gave Hamlet to Olivier, I must give Henry V to Branagh. His version of this war history is grittier and much less nationalistic than Olivier’s also strong version (Olivier’s was made with WWII in mind). Tenacious and bloody, it seems tame today, but Branagh’s unflinching look at war and imperialism brings Shakespeare to a new level. His performance that year should have garnered him more than just a few Oscar nominations for director and actor; he should have taken home the gold in at least one of those categories.

amberAmber Kelly-Anderson is a Texas-based writer and literature professor harbouring a long-standing infatuation with film. Her lifelong missions are to Save Ferris and voice a Pixar character.

Read more of Amber’s posts.


2 responses to “GIMME FIVE: Shakespeare Adaptations

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