Films have always looked at the written word for inspiration. And what better works than those by William Shakes-peare. His influence can be seen in many films – be it directly or indirectly – and in unexpected genres, too.
In more recent times, we had all sorts of Shakespearean underpinnings in the comic-book movie Thor (featuring shades of Henry IV and King Lear) in 2011. A theory strengthened further by the fact that the film boasted Shakespearean actor Tom Hiddleston and was directed by Kenneth Branagh.
Elsewhere, check out Disney’s animated feature The Lion King, and you’ll find shades of Hamlet … only with a happier ending!
The Bard can be a seasonal thing in Hollywood. Not too long ago, there were a couple of teen films with modern-day settings based on Shakespeare’s classic plays – think 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s The Man and O.
Sometimes Shakespeare is the main focus, especially in Shakespeare In Love. In that one, it was a tale of Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) falling in love, which in turn inspired him to pen one of his classic plays.
In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in 1991, we learnt Shakespeare was a Klingon! A line from the movie went: “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.” Well, now we know.
Shakespeare’s reach is definitely far and wide. Japanese director Akira Kurosawa added Eastern flavour into Shakespeare’s plays when he reimagined them in films like Throne Of Blood (based on Macbeth), Ran (King Lear) and The Bad Sleep Well (Hamlet).
Bollywood attempted the same with Maqbool (Macbeth), a 2003 film, starring Irrfan Khan, and Haider, a 2014 film based on Hamlet, featuring Shahid Kapoor.
That is the the great thing about Shakespeare’s works – they can be re-interpreted in many ways. Here we look at some films that have made Shakespeare’s works uniquely their own.
1) Throne Of Blood (1957)
Last year, Michael Fassbender tackled the role of Macbeth in the film adaptation of this violent tale of witchcraft and power play. Apparently, the actor said that one of his favourite Macbeth adaptations is Akira Kurosawa’s Throne Of Blood. And, understandably so. With medieval Japan as Kurosawa’s backdrop and his favourite leading man Toshiro Mifune as a samurai who has his eyes on the throne, the legendary Japanese filmmaker delivered one of the best film adaptations of a Shakespeare play.
2) Richard III (1995)
Ian McKellen is in the titular role with Annette Bening as Queen Elizabeth, Robert Downey Jr as Lord Rivers and Kristin Scott Thomas playing Lady Anne. The script – co-written by McKellen and director Richard Loncraine – sees the events take place in an alternative fascist England, with Richard as a Hitler-like dictator.
3) Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Australian director Baz Luhrmann got everyone paying attention to Shakespeare again with his bold adaptation of the Bard’s famous romantic tragedy. He also cast Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the star-crossed lovers. These capable actors brought fresh fervour to the roles that they conveyed. For the 1990s alternative generation, this was Romeo and Juliet in a new and even more tragic light.
4) 10 Things I Hate About You (1996) and O (2001)
Julia Stiles stars in both of these films that update Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew and Othello respectively.
Both feature modern American high school themes, but thanks to a charming cast in each film, they work wonderfully. Singing, dancing and a lot of verbal sparring are all part of the deal in these films.
5) Hamlet (2000)
Hamlet is said to be the greatest play of all time. One reason why it’s regarded so highly is because it intricately explores a person’s mind. It is the same reason why actors want to get under Hamlet’s skin – the character thrives on monologues, one of which sees him conversing with a skull.
For Hamlet, Laurence Olivier starred and directed a 1948 classic, while Kenneth Branagh took on the double duties with the 1996 version. Both remain fantastic adaptations.
In the Ethan Hawke-helmed Hamlet in 2000, the play received a different kind of interpretation. It was set in modern day New York, and Hamlet is the son of the newly-dead CEO of Denmark Corporation (get it?).
The film wasn’t short on star power, with a cast including Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray, Casey Affleck, Bill Murray (Polonius) and, of course, Julia Stiles (Ophelia).
6) Coriolanus (2012)
This is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known tragedies. Directed by Ralph Fiennes, who also takes on the lead role, the film is set in a war-torn city (also called Rome) in the present day. The action scenes were epic, to say the least. The fight between Fiennes and Gerard Butler (as Tullus Aufidius) took two days to shoot. The Shakespearean dialogue was a neat touch.
7) Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
There are undoubtedly many retellings of this tale – a comedy of errors. But the one directed by Joss Whedon is interesting just because it’s tied to reality. He filmed it at his Santa Monica home and the party scene in the film was an actual party with his friends and family. And if you are a fan of Whedon, then all the main players are very familiar – Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, who portray Beatrice and Benedick, first paired up in the series Angel. Elsewhere, Sean Maher and Nathan Fillion were the main stars of the series Firefly.
Everyone is in modern day clothes, but the show’s rich flavour comes courtesy of the Shakespearean lingo used.