Author Topic: William Shakespeare on Film  (Read 12457 times)


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William Shakespeare on Film
« on: March 19, 2015, 12:43:45 AM »

I see some of the more massive projects going on here, and figured I wanted to have one of my own, so here it goes. I've always meant to go through the complete works of  William Shakespeare, but I always just find myself reading too much of a variety of things to stick to any one author, subject, etc for too long at once. So my plan is basically to read a play now and then, and in the weeks (months?) after I've got that done, I'm going to watch any movie adaptation I can get my hands on. Pretty fun, right?

I went to Barnes and Noble and bought a book compiling all of the plays in the order they were thought to be written, so I suppose that is how I'll do it here. That will give me a nice blend between tragedies, histories, and comedies. Being a bit of a completest, and a guy that has to go start to finish, I won't watch anything until I've seen all Shakespeare plays it seems to compile (for instance, An Age of Kings puts together the histories in the correct historical order, and Theater of Blood pays tribute to all of his works, so I have some work to do before I can get to those ones).

I've read a few of these plays before, but am ashamed to admit it's been since junior high. Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet come to mind, but aren't fresh at all.

As far as the movies go, pretty much everything is fair game here...straight up serious adaptations, teen romances, cartoons turning the characters in garden gnomes, TV Miniseries, whatever. If I'm working on a play and  a favorite adaptation or associated movie doesn't seem to be there, just let me know and I'll throw it on my list if I can get a hold of it. This also includes anything that might be considered tangential (for example, in Richard the Third's movies, I am including Tower of London and Looking for Richard)

Anyways, here we go. I'll list the plays as I read them and put the list of movies I plan to watch. Forgive me if this moves at the pace of a glacier.

King Henry the Sixth
The First Part of King Henry the Sixt (1983)
The Second Part of King Henry the Sixt (1983)
The Third Part of King Henry the Sixt (1983)

King Richard the Third
Richard III (1911)
Tower of London (1939)
Richard III (1955)
Tower of London (1962)
The Tragedy of Richard III (1983)
Richard III (1995)
Looking for Richard (1996)
King Rikki (or The Street King) (2002)

Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus (1985)
Scott Tenorman Must Die (2001)

The Comedy of Errors
Do Dooni Chaar (1968)
Angoor (1982)
The Comedy of Errors (1983)
Big Business(1988)

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
A Spray of Plum Blossoms (1931)
The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1983)

Love's Labour's Lost
Love's Labour's Lost (1985)
Love's Labour's Lost (2000)

Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet (1911)
Romeo e Giulietta (1912)
Felix the Cat in Romeeow(1927)
Romeo and Juliet(1936)
Shakespearian Spinach(1940)
Romeo in Rhythm (1940)
Beaneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953)
Romeo & Juliet (1968)
The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet(1969)
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Tromeo and Juliet (1998)
Romeo Must Die (2000)
Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)
Ram-Leela (2013)
Romeo & Juliet (2013)

A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1996)
« Last Edit: October 16, 2015, 05:54:43 PM by Jared »


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Re: William Shakespeare on Film
« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2015, 12:47:52 AM »
The First Part of King Henry the Sixt (1983)

This movie is the first part of a tetrology spanning roughly 14 hours, I was pretty nervous about how this was all going to go.

I can't say I loved this, but it certainly helps the slow burn of the four movies. I'll explain. Jane Howell directs the four movies, and she makes it a slow decent into hell over their span. This particular film has a very tacky look to it. None of the characters look that tough even though many are hardened warriors, and the set is decorated in a lot of pastel colors. It almost feels a bit like a spoof, but the whole problem is that it reads the play word for word (at least as far as I can tell), making the whole thing just feel kind of incongruous. This movie makes its sequels pay off to great effect (more on that as I get a bit further along in these reviews), but unfortunately this is the first one I watched and didn't realize that. Without much idea of what was coming, it was a little bit of rough sledding for the majority of this.

Peter Benson plays the title role in the film, and presents the meek character that the story is about pretty well. This particular movie however, is at it's best in its scenes with Joan La Pucelle, played wonderfully by Mike Leigh regular Brenda Blethyn, and Lord Talbot, played by Trevor Peacock. Julia Foster plays Margaret, and is very worth keeping an eye on here, as her character is quite instrumental in later parts.

I got to say as well that in reading the three parts that make up King Henry the Sixth, this was my least favorite. In the upcoming parts, I felt a little bit more entrenched in the story. Guessing at the time this play was made, the characters in it and the historical background of the War of Roses were better known. I found myself going to Wikipedia here and there to play catch up.  Once you are a third of the way though, it certainly gets easier.

The Second Part of King Henry the Sixt (1983)

The second portion of this play is a marked improvement over the first, if not nearly as action filled. This part, more than the other than the other two, deals with all the in-fighting between the various players under King Henry's rule.

One notices that everything feels a little bit more lived in and worn down in this second part. While Henry looks much the same, all our supporting characters have gotten a little bit more rugged and steely eyed.  The most jarring example is in Bernard Hill's York. It feels kind of silly to me that I buy a character's strength so much more when he sports a five o'clock shadow (sort of like the old joke about the "ugly" girl taking off her glasses and taking her hair out of a ponytail), but it isn't just that I suppose. It's displayed throughout his mannerisms and idiosyncrasies through much of this film. York is arguably as much the lead in this play as much as Henry, and I was concerned I just won't buy in after the first part. Glad that a few tweaks had such a stong effect. Also elevating her chill factor and stepping up her game big time for part 2 is Queen Margaret, played by Julia Foster. Had I not read the play, it would still be pretty apparent to me who was going to make it a long ways in this story and who was not going to. Director Jane Howell practically marks the characters that aren't going to be with us all that much longer. Some of them still just seem to have that "Part 1" look to them, and it just isn't their world anymore.

I was considering not doing this whole marathon after the first part, as this BBC series is the only DVD version I can find of a few of Shakespeare's plays, and I didn't want to really do the project if they were all going to be like that one. Happy to say that the second part "set the hook" for me. At the same time, my appreciation for the first part went up quite a bit too. I'm sure I would like it more now, realizing what Howell is doing as a whole. 

The Third Part of King Henry the Sixt (1983)

The third part of this play is mostly an all out war, and this adaptation does a wonderful job accommodating.

It had done this to a very small degree in the previous two parts, but this one really highlights a couple of one on one battles between the characters. It really gets pretty intense when the movie shifts into this "Mortal Kombat" like mode, getting away from that terrific dialogue for a few interludes just to watch some characters whack away on each other with swords. It's good fighting too! I figured the format of this BBC series might make it look a little weak but fortunately that isn't the case here. Oengus MacNamara as young Clifford and Mark Wing Davey as the Earl of Warwick stood out in particular for their intensity.

Ron Cook steps into this one as Richard, Duke of Gloucester. It's a really fun supporting performance that made me eager to see what he would do with the lead role. Peter Benson is good once again in this one as well, particularly in the many long monologues he has to go through, pleading for resolution to all the conflict as everything falls apart.

A very fitting cap to the King Henry the Sixth narrative. I've got a ton of reading to do but from what I can tell this is one of his least loved plays, and that has me pretty excited for what is to come.  Certainly wouldn't mind something considerably slimmer, as this story took up roughly 1/12th of the page count in the Barnes and Noble book mentioned in the first post. Perhaps why so little actually exists in the realm of film adapting it? Seems right for an HBO miniseries or something.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2015, 12:54:15 AM by Jared »


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Re: William Shakespeare on Film
« Reply #2 on: March 19, 2015, 09:35:53 AM »
I do not know
Why yet I live to say “This thing’s to do,”
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do ’t.

Bravo, Jared! You do all the hard work and we get the benefits. I'm very happy to read along. :)

As far as the movies go, pretty much everything is fair game here...straight up serious adaptations, teen romances, cartoons turning the characters in garden gnomes, TV Miniseries, whatever.


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Re: William Shakespeare on Film
« Reply #3 on: March 19, 2015, 10:39:26 AM »
This is gonna be so massive.  Are you really gonna try to do ALL of them?  Seems like a tall order.
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Re: William Shakespeare on Film
« Reply #4 on: March 19, 2015, 10:42:06 AM »
Yes indeed. Haven't seen that one since early college.


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Re: William Shakespeare on Film
« Reply #5 on: March 19, 2015, 10:45:07 AM »
This is gonna be so massive.  Are you really gonna try to do ALL of them?  Seems like a tall order.

Well like 300 of those are plays and I would guess 100 or so will be pretty hard to find. We'll see how it goes  :)


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Re: William Shakespeare on Film
« Reply #6 on: March 19, 2015, 11:42:19 PM »
Richard III (1995) (rewatch)

I had seen this one a long time ago when I was mowing throught Roger Ebert's Great Movies books. Not exactly knowing all the beats in the play at the time I didn't love it all that much, but this time around I really had a lot of fun.

Ian McKellen is in the title role and gives an especially nasty potrayal of an especially nasty character. He's an actor I really like but I feel like I've seen him in so few movies that are not of the summer blockbuster variety. This is my favorite role of his. Disgusting and villianous, but also a bit of a George Sanders like cad here and there. In a few of these other versions I've seen, the actor in the title role does a good job with the brute, but are not as up to the task when Richard's schemes ask him to play nice for the time being. His "pleasant" moments just make him all the more replusive.

The supporting cast is just wonderful for this thing as well. Jim Broadbent is the Duke of Buckingham, Maggie Smith plays the Duchess of York, and Kristen Scott Thomas is Lady Anne. King Edward's family has a bit more of an American look to them, emphasizing them as outsiders. The queen is played by Annette Bening, and Robert Downey Jr. plays Rivers, a combination of several characters from the play. Bening is particularly enoyable to watch, as she just oozes with disgust everytime Richard is near.

This is what I want in an adaptation. Richard Loncraine and McKellen perserve a huge amount of the play's dialouge, but they do a lot of fun and unique things themselves. The film is set in a World War II era, and they certainly do not have much issue with drawing some pretty unflattering comparisons between Richard and the villian of that war. Some of the scenes have what seems to be a very intentional Triumph of the Will look to them. Uniforms and weapons very much resemble those of the SS.

The movie also seems to enjoy really showing us the violence too. There are some nice grusome murders in spots that the play may simply describe the action of [Kills Him], or where characters are taken of screen. Rewatched this perhaps two weeks before writing this and one of the kills, where a character is badly impaled, still gives me a little bit of a tremor.  Surreal touches occur throughout the movie that are strangely jarring yet still mesmorizing. At one point a character sees Richard's face as that of a beast. It comes out of nowhere and took me by suprise. The ending, while following the plot, puts a bit of a different essence to the ending, and that is a fun and weird moment as well.

Richard III (1911)
I don't know how many good adaptations I'll see in the silent era for this marathon, as dialouge seems to be a pretty cruical element.

I confess to not really even being able to recognize who was supposed to be who in this one, outside of Richard. Scenes mostly take place in these big castle halls, and it actually sort of reminded me of the look in a lot of Meilies films before the characters go off on their adventures. Doesn't work as well here, when the viewer is trying to follow many different characters. Many times there are not even really characters in the foreground, but everyone just stands in the back of the shot side by side. It runs a quick 27 minutes, devoting a few minutes to each act. I doubt the story would be very comprehensible to someone who didn't know it.


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Re: William Shakespeare on Film
« Reply #7 on: March 25, 2015, 09:42:44 PM »
Cool project, Jared! I'll be following along with interest. :)

Great write-up of Richard III (1995), a Shakespeare adaptation I'm particularly fond of - really smart about the subject matter but taking some apt filmic liberties as well.

Perhaps you know this already, but there's a bit of a literary joke that I love in the opening credits, embedded in the song; the song conflates two poems: one by Marlowe, "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" and one by Raleigh, "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd." The former is a pastoral poem, idyllic and romantic, a shepherd (who seems to be far too wealthy to be an actual shepherd) promising his lady love all kinds of extravagant gifts and a lovely life if she'd just join him. The latter, a verse mirror of the former, is the rather sarcastic reply Raleigh imagined a cynical woman might make to the shepherd, indicating she doubts the faithfulness of the shepherd and reminding the shepherd that everything fades and all things die.

The song is perfect for the film, not only because it uses two Elizabethan/Early Modern poets, contemporaries of Shakespeare, but also because the two poems' verses foreshadow the way naive hope, innocence, and family joy will so quickly dissolve into betrayal and death. The song begins with the hopeful Marlowe and ends with the snide Raleigh. (Also, the tune is so catchy!)

(lyrics start at 2:11)

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd
If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every Shepherd’s tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move,
To live with thee, and be thy love.

Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When Rivers rage and Rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb,
The rest complains of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields,
To wayward winter reckoning yields,
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy’s spring, but sorrow’s fall.

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of Roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten:
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and Ivy buds,
The Coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.

But could youth last, and love still breed,
Had joys no date, nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee, and be thy love.


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Re: William Shakespeare on Film
« Reply #8 on: March 26, 2015, 01:25:38 AM »
My goodness that is very cool. I was spending the whole song trying to put faces to characters and didn't even find myself listening to any of the lyrics very closely (although the catchy hook has been very much stuck in my head). Fun to watch it again paying more attention to the band! Perhaps I may have been a bit more clued in had I noticed them all wearing giant "WS" banners.

Wish I could watch the whole movie over again with full on annotations start to finish. The movie just seems absolutely packed with all kinds of fun tidbits. 95% of them going over my head didn't make me enjoy it any less though!


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Re: William Shakespeare on Film
« Reply #9 on: March 26, 2015, 12:33:32 PM »
The little references and tidbits are fun, no? :)  I love those nods to other texts within texts.