Compared to the comedies and tragedies, Shakespeare’s history plays haven’t been adapted for cinema much at all—by my count, there are only five sound-era Anglophone films! The BBC and ESC (English Shakespeare Company) have produced several more for the small screen, but with the exception of The Hollow Crown series (2012-ongoing), I shan’t talk about them here.
Since there are only five cinematic histories, I’m listing list them all, by production year.
Henry V (1944)
Directed by Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier, Renée Asherson, Robert Newton, Leslie Banks
Even though the film might seem out-dated today, this was the first critically and commercially successful Shakespeare film adaptation—ground-breaking stuff! If you look at the date, you’ll notice it was made during WWII. Yup, it was partially funded by the British government, and was actually intended as a propaganda film (I’ve written a bit about that here). 10% of the production budget went into shooting the epic Battle of Agincourt, which was the only sequence filmed on location (in the neutral Republic of Ireland, near Dublin).
IMDb / Wikipedia
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.
IMDb / Wikipedia
Since a few participants of the 2016 Bardathon Challenge are interested in a list of recommendations for Shakespearean film adaptations, I’m putting together a blog post…or twenty. It seems my academic and fangirl personas have been conspiring behind my (sore and bad) back, and now I’ve no choice but to talk at little length and with great gusto about these film adaptations.
Before getting started, I want to put forth my definition of adaptation, which has been shaped by my academic work on Shakespearean films. Over three years ago, I had a rather limiting view of what an ‘adaptation’ constituted, and would always be comparing those adaptations to Shakespeare’s ‘originals’ in terms of what the new versions lacked. Now, I think of adaptations as entities in and of themselves, and not ‘copies’ or imitations’ of Shakespeare’s plays.