For those who would like some help choosing titles for the 2016 Bardathon Challenge, I’ve put together lists of some Shakespearean film adaptations. (See this post for my definition of adaptation, and for some suggestions on what to keep in mind while watching a Shakespearean adaptation.) Starting with Anglophone/English-speaking films, here are my five favourite adaptations of comedies (as classified by the First Folio):
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Robert Sean Leonard, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, Michael Keaton
An absolutely delightful adaptation! Although I’m not a fan of Branagh’s later works, I adore his Much Ado About Nothing. Emma Thompson is flawless as Beatrice, the screenplay and pacing are excellent, and the music is simply lovely (especially with composer Patrick Doyle’s cameo as the musician Balthazar). Although Keanu Reeves’s Don John isn’t the most convincing villain, we can overlook that, given the bright and sunny nineteenth-century setting, and the overall joys of the film. If you’re looking for a more ‘traditional’ comedy adaptation that uses Shakespeare’s words, I recommend you check this out.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Directed by Gil Junger
Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, Larry Miller, Andrew Keegan, Allison Janney
Yes, it’s a teen rom com, and yes, it’s still Shakespeare! Based on The Taming of the Shrew, but without too much of the play’s misogyny, this film is full of fun, wit, and clever Shakespearean references. And even if you can resist the charming Heath Ledger as Patrick/Petruchio (why would you want to?), the young Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a nervous Cameron/Lucentio, complete with a voice that keeps breaking? Adorable. Also: Allison Janney wins at winning.
The Merchant of Venice (2004)
Directed by Michael Radford
Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins
Although it was classified under the comedies, The Merchant of Venice is now widely accepted as a tragicomedy because there are some pretty dark moments—especially the anti-Semitism. Radford handles these issues with great sensitivity, while Al Pacino is fantastic as Shylock. In fact, the entire cast is excellent: there’s a palpable homoerotic tension between Antonio (Jeremy Irons) and Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes), and Portia (Lynn Collins) proves she’s certainly not a helpless lady, waiting to be rescued.
Kiss Me Kate (1953)
Directed by George Sidney
Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller
Based on Cole Porter’s musical (which was based on The Taming of the Shrew), Kiss Me Kate is worth checking out, especially if you’re a musical theatre fan. There are some great songs and characters, and a fair share of wonderful moments ranging from hilarity to tenderness.
Twelfth Night (1996)
Directed by Trevor Nunn
Imogen Stubbs, Steven Mackintosh, Nicholas Farrell, Ben Kingsley, Helena Bonham Carter, Nigel Hawthorne, Mel Smith, Imelda Staunton
Nunn has been with the Royal Shakespeare Company since 1964, so he knows a thing or two about the Bard. Although Twelfth Night is a great play, I’ve always been a bit miffed at how some of the characters fall in love so quickly (my not-so-inner spoilerphobe refuses to mention any names)—but Nunn’s elongation of the film’s time frame makes the character and relationship developments a lot more believable.
Here are a few other films you might like to check out (some aren’t my thing, but I’ve listed them because they could be yours). It’s by no means a comprehensive list, but ones I think are the most interesting. Arranged alphabetically.
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream (dir. Michael Hoffman, 1999). IMDb / Wikipedia
- A Midsummer Night’s Rave (dir. Gil Cates Jr., 2002). IMDb / Wikipedia
- Deliver Us From Eva (dir. Gary Hardwick, 2003). IMDb / Wikipedia
- Get Over It (dir. Tommy O’Haver, 2001). IMDb / Wikipedia
- Much Ado About Nothing (dir. Joss Whedon, 2012). IMDb / Wikipedia
- Never Been Kissed (dir. Raja Gosnell, 1999). IMDb / Wikipedia
- She’s the Man (dir. Andy Fickman, 2006). IMDb / Wikipedia
- The Taming of the Shrew (dir. Franco Zeffirelli, 1967). IMDb / Wikipedia
- The Tempest (dir. Julie Taymor, 2000). IMDb / Wikipedia
- Were the World Mine (dir. Tom Gustafson, 2008). IMDb / Wikipedia
What’s your favourite cinematic Shakespearean comedy? Have you come across any adaptations you didn’t like so much? Are there any of the above (or otherwise) you want to check out? Please share your thoughts in a comment below—and I hope you get to enjoy some comedic Shakespearean films!