Roman Polanski's nightmarish vision of Macbeth
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring: Jon Finch, Francesca Annis
Roman Polanski's adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth remains one of the most infamous for a number of reasons: the copious amounts of bloody gore, its expert use of location settings (filmed in North Wales) and Lady Macbeth's nude sleepwalking scene. Despite its notoriety, though, this does remain one of the more compelling film adaptations of the Scottish tragedy, if one of the more pessimistic takes on the story of Macbeth and his overreaching ambition. If you think the play is normally a bit of a downer, you haven't seen Polanski's bleak version of it, made in reaction to the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson "family". Jon Finch (Hitchcock's Frenzy) is a forceful Macbeth, bringing out the Scot's warrior instincts, and Francesca Annis is a memorable Lady Macbeth but the main thrust of the film belongs to Polanski's and noted British playwright and critic Kenneth Tynan's take on the play: extremely violent, nihilistic and visceral; this is down-in-the-dirt, no-holds-barred Shakespeare, not fussy costume drama. Pay close attention to the end, a silent coda that puts a chilling twist on all the action that has come beforehand and foreshadows more tragedy to come. --Mark Englehart
"excellent new adaptation"
Othello: The Tragedy of the Moor 2008
Directed by Zaib Shaikh
Starring: Carlo Rotta, Matthew Deslippe
Based on the play Othello, by Shakespeare, this theatrical television (CBC) adaptation raises the Bard's riveting drama of love and lust, betrayal and murder to the dizzying heights of a psychological thriller
"Something Wicked This Way Comes"
Directed by Geoffrey Wright
Starring: Gary Sweet, Steve Bastoni
With the 2006 MacBeth, controversial Australian director Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper, Metal Skin) launches his fourth big screen outing and continues the trend of reinventing Shakespeare by contemporizing the bard's plays. As in other recent efforts (Richard Loncraine's Richard III (1996), Michael Almereyda's Hamlet (2000)), Wright uses a distinctly postmodern context to extract related themes from the original work. Here, Wright reworks the brutal tragedy Macbeth, retaining its Elizabethan dialogue, but resituating the events within the arena of modern Australian gang violence. His Macbeth (Sam Worthington) is a drug baron and pimp, his Lady Macbeth a Valium-addicted, narcoleptic burnout and manipulator, his Duncan the head of Melbourne's criminal underground. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth murder Duncan in cold blood (framing the servants as responsible), but soon after Macbeth takes the throne, he is undone - and beheaded - by usurper Macduff. Like former adapter Roman Polanski, Wright ups the quotients of bloodletting, sadism, and underlying iciness. He filmed much of the picture with HD photography - thus capturing a broader range of imagery and a much blacker darkness in his nighttime sequences - and lit a pivotal action scene exclusively with red laser gun sights. The result is a thoroughly unique and unprecedented work. ~ Nathan Southern, All Movie Guide
Twelfth Night 1969
Directed by John Sichel
Starring: Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson
Sir Alec Guinness Sir Ralph Richardson and Joan Plowright star in this merry on-stage mix-up of identity gender and love in Tony Award winner John Dexter's production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night - a fanciful farce of classic proportions with a wealth of slapstick puns and double entendres that have amazed and amused audiences for over four hundred years. KOCH Ent.
Royal National Theatre Production
King Lear 1997
Directed by Richard Eyre
Starring: Ian Holm, Barbara Flynn
Director Richard Eyre's King Lear is a daring adventure into minimalism: The set is nearly as spare of adornment as Ian Holm's Lear when he doffs his garments during Act III's storm scene. But the austerity of the set and the brief nudity of Holm serve only to accentuate the naked ignorance, greed, and enmity that consume the characters in Shakespeare's pitch-black play about family relationships gone wrong. Act I opens in an unadorned red room lit by candles and torches and furnished only with a table and chairs; sitting or standing around the table are men and women in plain neck-to-toe black, gray, or scarlet costumes. Though the Eyre adaptation forsakes lavish background trappings, the souls of the characters are richly embellished with the full gamut of human emotions. Holm is simply magnificent as a Lear who tumbles from the zenith of power to the depths of weakness and despair. Victoria Hamilton, meanwhile, plays Cordelia with the right mix of conviction and resolve, and Amanda Redman (Regan) and Barbara Flynn (Goneril) portray the evil sisters first with oozing flattery, then with open belligerence and cruelty. Michael Bryant is quite competent as the "wise fool," but his lines are sometimes difficult to understand. The production aired on television in 1998 after being staged in London in 1997 by the Royal National Theatre. It won the acclaim of critics and earned Holm the 1997 Olivier Award of the Society of London Theatre. King Lear today rivals Hamlet as the most frequently performed Shakespeare play, perhaps because modern audiences understand that it is as much about today's complex and troubled families as it is about the family of a dotty old king from long ago. ~ Mike Cummings, All Movie Guide
"Olivier's Monumental Interpretation"
King Lear 1984
Directed by Michael Elliott
Starring: Lawrence Olivier, Colin Blakely
The late Sir Lawrence Olivier stars in this Emmy Award winning production of Shakespeare's King Lear. It is the timeless tale of greed and lust for power, and of a sick old man, his scheming children and lost loyalties. Also stars Diana Rigg, John Hurt, Leo McKern, and Colin Blakely. Special DVD features include a biography and filmography on Sir Lawrence Olivier, character and cast list, chapter stops on each scene, and more. Kultur
Directed by Julie Taymor
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lang
Considered by many to be Shakespeare's worst play, Titus Andronicus is a bloodthirsty tragedy full of villainous heroes and bottomless revenge--hardly the stuff of big-screen directorial debuts, it would seem. Yet Julie Taymor dives headfirst into moviemaking with Titus, a spectacular adaptation that manages to find beauty and humor in the piles of carnage.
The story begins simply enough by Shakespearean standards: celebrated Roman warrior Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins) returns from a hard-won victory to bury his slain sons and avenge their deaths by killing the eldest son of his enemy, Tamora, queen of the Goths (Jessica Lange). Tamora responds by seducing the impressionable new emperor and setting all of Rome into a downward spiral of revenge, madness, and death.
Taymor, who won a Tony for her Broadway production of The Lion King, throws all her theatrical sensibilities at the story--armies are exquisitely choreographed, blood is shed so beautifully that it hardly seems real, and characters are costumed in symbolic combinations of ancient Roman and 20th-century garb. She plays up the dark comedy at every opportunity, lending a carnival flavor to the story's most gruesome moments. Excellent performances from Hopkins (whose deranged Titus is more than a little reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter), Lange, and the supporting cast help make the endless treachery credible. --Claire Campbell
Shakespeare in the 21st Century
Shakespeare Retold 2005
Shakespeare Retold, BBC's four-episode Shakespeare project, is more fulfilling when compared to past filmic adaptations of the maestro's plays, since its experimentation ventures well beyond previous versions of the same stories. In the past, adaptations relied on strict adherence to the original scripts (see Orson Welles' and Polanski's Macbeths, or Franco Zefferelli's lavishly accurate renditions of The Taming of The Shrew and Romeo and Juliet). Though Welles as Macbeth and Liz Taylor as Kate are stiff competition, however, these parts are ever open for reinterpretation. But not until Leonardo di Caprio as Romeo dropped a hit of ecstasy on screen did adaptations stray so far into the narrative experimentation that this series relies on. The stories retold, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night's Dream so loosely keep their Shakespearian frameworks that unassuming viewers may miss the link. For example, in Macbeth, Joe (James McAvoy), the ambitious sous chef, kills his restaurant's owner to inherit the kitchen's three Michelin stars. Does this mean now that every movie about murderous jealousy is Shakespeare Retold? In The Taming of the Shrew, conservative politician Kate, valiantly portrayed by Shirley Henderson, is coerced into marriage by her political advisor to win Prime Minister votes. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck (Dean Lennox Kelly) is a hippified nerd who drops onto the camera lens something like liquid acid before spinning a mundane tale of broken engagement. Shakespeare modernized without his language, or original settings, hardly feels like Shakespeare at all. Shakespeare Retold, will undoubtedly please some fans and enrage others. Though Shakespeare professors will relish this new attempt to contemporize Shakespeare, the four films comprising Shakespeare Retold not only diminish the potency of these classic tales, but also beg the viewer to question what Shakespeare tales really are. —Trinie Dalton
Richard III 1995
Director: Richard Loncraine
Starring: Ian McEwan, Annette Bening
This film adaptation of a critically acclaimed stage production of Shakespeare's historical drama stars Ian McKellen in the title role. The setting is a comic-book vision of 1930s London: part art deco, part Third Reich, part industrial-age rust and rot. The play's force is turned into a synthetic high by art directors and storyboard sketchers, all of whom have a field day condensing the material into disposable pop imagery. This is a fun film, more than anything, so infatuated with its own monstrous stitchery that even the most awkward casting (Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jr.) seems a part of the ridiculous design. McKellen is the best thing about the movie, his mesmerizing portrayal of freakish despotism and poisoned desire a thing to behold. Directed by Richard Loncraine (Bellman and True). --Tom Keogh
William Shakespeare's Hamlet
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie
Kenneth Branagh's four-hour production of Shakespeare's full text for Hamlet is visually lush (shot in 70mm, which is rarely done) and full of fascinating story moments that normally get cut from shorter stage versions. (Your idea of what kind of fellow Polonius is may change quite a bit.) The unexpurgated approach is truly enlightening, and Branagh intermittently succeeds at giving familiar moments in the drama an original cinematic spin, including Hamlet's spooky confrontation with his father's ghost (Brian Blessed). (Branagh also imposes some Hollywood glitter on the proceedings by casting the likes of Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Charlton Heston, and Jack Lemmon in the smaller parts.) The pre-Titanic Kate Winslet is very good as the doomed Ophelia, and Derek Jacobi delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance as Claudius, whose character is definitely filled out by the restored material. Branagh's own performance is a little revisionist--some viewers have quibbled with it while others seem fine with it. --Tom Keogh
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