For Arethusa - Bard Edition

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader, in the comments to the previous post, was asked by Arethusa what his favorite films of the plays of Shakespeare.

That is a tough one. It really depends on your Maximum Leader’s mood. There is, however, a small pool of absolute favorites that keep popping up. Allow him to ennumerate them in no particular order…

1) Richard III - Ian McKellen’s version. Richard III is your Maximum Leader’s favorite play. The name of this blog comes from the play in fact. This version is great because of the 1930’s setting. Also, it is edited down and rather short at a little over an hour and a half. If your Maximum Leader wants a Shakespeare fix on the quick, this is the film he grabs.

2) Hamlet - Kenneth Branagh version. If your Maximum Leader’s memory is correct, this is the only version of the whole play on film. That is one of the reasons this film clocks in at about 4 hours long. It is wonderfully acted and the sets are beautiful. This is an exquiste film and probably the best filmed Shakespeare ever.

3) Richard III - Laurence Olivier version. Again, this is your Maximum Leader’s favorite Shakespeare play, so it seems right that it should be on the list twice. This version is a more conventional film than the McKellan version. (Conventional in that it has the feel of a play put on film.) You can’t beat Olivier for talent. Olivier was the greatest Shakespearean of our times (our “times” being roughly 1900 to the present - and in a pinch your Maximum Leader might argue that Olivier was the greatest Shakespearean actor since David Garrick).

4) Ran - by Akira Kurosawa. This might be something of a cheat. Ran is an adaptation of King Lear set in medieval Japan. Your Maximum Leader will stretch the category a little and include this film in the list.

5) MacBeth - Orson Welles version. Although it has been ages since your Maximum Leader has watched this film, he does remember it very fondly. He’ll have to see about renting it and rewatching to see if it is as he remembers it.

6) The Merchant of Venice - Pacino version. Pacino himself is a little over the top in this performance (as all of his performances on film since 1990 have been). But this is a wonderful adaptation of the play. Also, many exterior shots were filmed in Venice - which makes it a joy to watch.

7) Romeo & Juliet - Zefferelli version. This is a conventional choice. It probably makes everyone’s list. But it is well done and as your Maximum Leader remembers it, this was the first Shakespeare he ever saw (play or film).

8 ) Taming of the Shrew - Taylor/Burton version. Come on! Taylor! Burton! Need he say more?

9) Titus - Julie Tamor version. Your Maximum Leader loves the cast of this film. Anthony Hopkins. Jessica Lange. Alan Cumming. They are great actors and do so well in their part. Tamore’s setting and costuming is sort of wierd, yet interesting (not as over the top as her stage version of The Lion King, but interesting - perhaps influenced by McKellan’s R3).

10) Henry V - Branagh version. Wasn’t this the movie that really put Kenneth Branagh on the map so to speak.

So those are the top films of Shakespeare’s plays according to your Maximum Leader. Feel free to dispute as you like in the comments.

Carry on.


If you’re allowing Ran, you should definitely include Strange Brew, which is the best non-traditional adaptation of Hamlet.

Really? Strange Brew? It has been so long since I’ve seen it I don’t recall the similarities. This might be the encouragement I need to find the film and rewatch it.

I googled “Strange Brew Hamlet” and was directed to the Wiki page on the film which says that the film is an adaptation of Hamlet. I remember the ghost and such. But I’d have to rewatch to get more.

You didn’t write the Strange Brew Wiki page knowing that I’d check it?

Robbo said:

Did you ever see the Mel Gibson “Hamlet” (which might have been Zefferelli, too)? It’s been ages, but my recollection is that it wasn’t half bad.

I’ll give you Branagh’s “Henry V” even though I didn’t like the anti-war mooing or what he did with Falstaff. And I thought his “Much Ado” hopelessly marred by the Americans.

Did you know he did a musical version of “Love’s Labor’s Lost”? It was appalling - came out right about the time Branagh went off his chump over the whole Emma Thompson biznay, I b’lieve.

I did see Gibson’s “Hamlet.” As I recall, Gibson was the weakest link in that film. Glen Close did a great job as Gertrude. (Although I will edge her out with Julie Christie in the Branagh version.) It was a fine film, but I will still go with Branagh’s on the basis that it is the whole play. (Even some of the parts that were of dubious origin and might not have been Shakespeare’s.)

Falstaff was treated a bit shabbily by Branagh in Henry V. I wonder if Branagh would do the same with him now, many years later.

Never saw the “Love’s” musical.

“Much Ado” is okay. My wife really likes it. But your comment that it is marred by the Americans brings up the one point of Pacino’s “Looking for Richard” that I really liked. That point is that Pacino and his producer talked a great deal about how Americans are intimidated by Shakespeare. Also they mentioned how the flow of American English might not be completely condusive to an American “doing” Shakespeare right. I’m not sure I agree with the point, but it was interesting to think about.

Kevin Kim said:

Ah, Branagh’s “Henry V”– the St. Crispin’s Day speech! Awesomeness incarnate. My brother David and I saw the film at a cinema in Berne, Switzerland, where it was subtitled in French and German. Most memorable.

I enjoyed Gibson’s “Hamlet” (in fact, I thought twitchy Mel was typecast for the role), and applaud the appearance of a naked Olivia Hussey (what a name!) in Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

I agree that “Ran” is too Shakespearean not to belong on a list of Shakespearean cinematic works.

Why do I not remember a naked Olivia Hussey in Romeo & Juliet, but I do remember a naked Jessica Lange (in an orgy with Alan Cumming) in Titus? Humm…

I also seem to remember a naked (or nearly naked) Francesa Annis as Lady MacBeth in Roman Polanski’s version of MacBeth.

Nudity in Shakespeare… Yay!

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