It's like Shakespeare... on a plane

While Kenneth Branagh's 1989 Henry V itself was not a Hollywood production, its critical and commercial success led to a new wave of Shakespeare adaptations.

Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 Hamlet is something of an exception--it completed Zeffirelli's Shakespeare trilogy. He started it in the sixties with Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet.

For the early 1990s, Branagh was the popular face of Shakespeare--he adapted Much Ado About Nothing in 1993 and appeared (but did not direct) in 1995's Othello.

But in 1995, another kind of Shakespeare adaptation appeared--Richard Loncraine's Richard III updated the play from the thirteenth century to the 1930s. While stage productions of Shakespeare often modernized the originals, film adaptations tended to be more faithful to the settings.

Richard III kickstarted a whole new genre… Much like the "Die Hard in a...", soon Shakespeare adaptations were "Romeo and Juliet in a..."

Speaking of Romeo and Juliet, Baz Luhrmann's popular adaptation in 1996 targeted the teenage demographic and the three themes of late twentieth century Shakespeare adaptations came close to converging.

Even Branagh updated Hamlet a little (to the nineteenth century) before he too caught the modernization, reimagining bug. His 2000 Love's Labour's Lost was updated to the 1930s--and done as a musical.

The teenage Shakespeare variations, which seemed so prevalent at the time, only produced two more major outings--the very popular 10 Things I Hate about You (based on The Taming of the Shrew) and Tim Blake Nelson's O (based on Othello).

O, in 2001, was one of the last of the major Shakespeare adaptations for a while. The genre, which built up throughout the 1990s, halted to a stop. The market may have just been saturated--especially after the success of Shakespeare in Love, the first major film featuring Shakespeare as a character.

Since O, only a handful of Shakespeare adaptations have been made and most without fanfare--Al Pacino starred in The Merchant of Venice, Branagh tried As You Like It and Billy Morrissette updated Macbeth to seventies suburban Pennsylvania with Scotland, PA.

Julie Taymor--whose Titus adaptation featured the Roman Empire surviving into the modern era--made The Tempest in 2010. Even with Helen Mirren (Taymor changed the gender of the protagonist to female) and Russell Brand (in a drama), the film failed to make much noise.

Much like 3-D, Shakespeare adaptations come in waves and there are often long ebbs. But the Library has many of the 1990s Hollywood Shakespeare wave available on DVD.

Much like the more imaginative stage productions, many of these films show how the depth of Shakespeare's plays translates well to any era and setting.

Of course, the Library also has more traditional productions--you can always ask a librarian for more information.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

  • Henry V (1989), starring Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, and Christian Bale
  • Much Ado About Nothing (1993), starring Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington and Michael Keaton
  • Hamlet (1996), starring Branagh, Kate Winslet, Jack Lemmon and Charlton Heston
  • Love's Labour's Lost (2000), starring Branagh, Natascha McElhone, Nathan Lane and Alicia Silverstone
  • As You Like It (2006), starring Romola Garai, Kevin Kline, Alfred Molina and Bryce Dallas Howard

Shakespeare in high school

  • Romeo + Juliet (1996), starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, Paul Rudd and Jamie Kennedy
  • 10 Things I Hate about You (1996), starring Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon Levitt and David Krumholtz
  • O (1996), starring Josh Hartnett, Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles and Martin Sheen

Directed by Julie Taymor

  • Titus (1999), starring Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming and Jonathan Rhys Meyers
  • The Tempest (2010), starring Helen Mirren, Russell Brand, Alan Cumming and Alfred Molina

Traditional adaptations

  • Hamlet (1990), starring Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Helena Bonham Carter and Ian Holm
  • Othello (1995), starring Laurence Fishburne, Irène Jacob, Kenneth Branagh and Michael Sheen
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999), starring Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett and Christian Bale
  • The Merchant of Venice (2004), starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes and Lynn Collins

Reimagined settings

  • Richard III (1995), starring Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr. and Kristin Scott Thomas
  • Hamlet (2000), starring Ethan Hawke, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber and Casey Affleck
  • Scotland, PA (2001), starring James LeGros, Maura Tierney, Christopher Walken and Andy Dick

And starring (someone) as William Shakespeare

  • Shakespeare in Love (1998), starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Colin Firth and Ben Affleck
  • Anonymous (2011), starring Vanessa Redgrave, Derek Jacobi, Rhys Ifans and Rafe Spall
Written by awickliffe on January 17, 2012

Leave a comment