On the Bard’s 450th Birthday: Our 5 Favorite Shakespearean Film Adaptations
It’s been 450 years since Shakespeare’s birth, yet his impact on pop culture shows no sign of diminishing. (Case in point: The books in our Twisted Lit series from Merit Press are modern adaptations of his plays!) As devout fans of Shakespeare, we’ll tune in to just about anything that bears the mark of the Bard. It isn’t easy to narrow it down to just five of our favorites, but here’s our best attempt.
1. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, written and directed by Tom Stoppard
Originally conceived as a stage play, R&G probably wins for most creative adaptation. Two minor characters from Hamlet are at the forefront of this darkly hilarious existential look at fate, with Shakespeare’s play co-existing within the movie and driving the plot. (It’s so meta.)
2. Romeo + Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrmann
This modernized 1996 flick starring Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes is all kinds of crazy brilliant, featuring Shakespeare’s original dialogue alongside a musical number by Mercutio; gun-toting, ultra-stylish gangs; and Paul Rudd as Paris dressed in an astronaut suit. Somehow, it all works.
3. Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Kenneth Branagh
Branagh and his then wife, Emma Thompson, star alongside Kate Beckinsale, and Denzel Washington in this film adaptation, which is near and dear to our hearts. Branagh made some unconventional choices (like giving Keanu Reeves a major role as the villainous Don John), but he wound up with a movie that is incredibly endearing and lovely to look at. Personally, we have always found the treatment of the heroine Hero hard to watch in any production, but if you can ignore the Elizabethan misogyny, we think you’ll love this movie.
4. Romeo and Juliet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli
You may have seen this popular adaptation from 1968 in your high school English class, but if not, you’ll want to put it in your viewing queue. This is a traditional rendering filmed in Italy with period costumes and music. It’s also the first production of the play to use actors closest in age to the characters of Romeo and Juliet; Actor Leonard Whiting (Romeo) was seventeen and actress Olivia Hussey (Juliet), sixteen. To say we love this movie would be an understatement. (Kim even has the vintage movie poster hanging in her bedroom.)
5. Hamlet, directed by Laurence Olivier
As far as we’re concerned it would anathema to have a list of Shakespeare adaptations without including this 1948 black and white film, directed by and starring British Shakespearean actor Laurence Olivier. This was the first non-American film to win Best Picture, and Olivier (41 when the film was released) was the first actor to direct himself to a best actor Academy Award.
And as a bonus, we’re going to go way out in left field and recommend the strange, but entertaining 1982 adaptation of The Tempest directed by Paul Mazursky and starring a pre-Sixteen Candles Molly Ringwald as Miranda.
About Anyone But You
Two Italian restaurants, both alike in dignity, in Chicago’s Little Italy where we lay our scene... After her family’s struggling eatery, Cap’s, falls prey to another of the Monte clan’s vicious and destructive pranks, sixteen-year-old Gigi Caputo finds herself courting danger during a clandestine encounter with Roman Monte, the very boy whose relatives have brought her family such grief. When the daughter and son of these two warring factions fall for each other, their quest to mend this bitter family feud turns out to be a recipe for disaster. Their story is irrevocably linked to the summer of 1933, when two twelve-year-olds, Benny and Nick, hop the turnstile at the Chicago World’s Fair. While enjoying some of the fair’s legendary amusements, Nick has a “love at first sight” encounter with Stella, a young girl who unintentionally causes a lasting rift between the two boyhood pals. Deftly winding its way through past and present day, this modern take on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet has much to do with hate — but more with love.
About the Authors
Amy Helmes and Kim Askew are the authors of the Shakespeare-inspired YA series Twisted Lit from Merit Press. For Amy and Kim’s own take on Romeo and Juliet, check out their most recent novel, Anyone But You, which USA Today called “heartbreakingly lovely.” For more about the books in their Twisted Lit series, including their spins on The Tempest and Macbeth, check out twistedlitbooks.com. You can also follow them on twitter @kaskew and @amyhelmes.