Shakespeare is my hero.
I love it all. I love every play, every sonnet, every word, rhyme and dick joke. He is one of those historical figures who was changing the game before the game existed. Or he invented the game. Either way, Shakespeare rules. April 23, 2015 is the Bard’s 451st birthday, so we decided to have a look at some of the best Shakespeare adaptations over the years. It would be easy to just pick the best straight adaptations (Oliver’s Henry V, McKellan’s Richard III, Branagh’s Much Ado about Nothing), so instead today, class, we will be discussing the best updates, remixes, reimaginings, etc., etc. Now this year I have focused on tragedies as I did not want to re-watch West Side Story, and I felt that Sara had already said everything that needed saying about Ten Things I Hate About You. I promise, next year I’ll only talk romance.
The Lion King
The first time I realised that The Lion King was Hamlet, I nearly threw up. Lion King has been a Fallon household staple for a while (as has Shakespeare), so when someone mentioned the Hamlet connection to me it blew my mind. But it’s all there: the jealous uncle, the ghostly father, the indecisive son. I mean, yeah, Shakespeare’s masterpiece doesn’t include awesomely catchy songs or talking animals but the heart of the story is there. I’ve taught literature to kids who do not want to know about literature and being able to use the Lion King/Hamlet connection to find common ground with them has been a lifesaver more than once. Look also to the two sequels to Lion King, which are based on Romeo and Juliet and, weirdly, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
King Lear set in Liverpool. Now, my family being from Liverpool may have made me bias towards this film. This is one I would love my American colleagues to track down and watch, just to see if it is any good. The movies follows Richard Harris’ gangster patriarch as he gives up his power to his three daughters (two who are wicked and one who wants nothing to do with it). This is a great one to watch for its cast. Harris is amazing, backed up by Paul McGann and Aiden Gillen as nefarious shits, with the rest of the characters rounded out by good old Scouse talent. P.S. Scouse refers to someone from Liverpool.
Throne of Blood
Kurosawa had a great record when it came to adapting Shakespeare. His Ran and The Bad Sleep Well (King Lear and Hamlet respectively) are works of art but his Shakespeare masterpiece for me is his Macbeth. Throne of Blood follows very closely to Shakespeare’s play but stands out because of how scary it is. The wraith in the forest that delivers the prophesies is chilling in its pale-faced, deep-voiced intensity. Lady Macbeth, or Lady Asaji, is an expressionless porcelain doll full of monotone anger and madness. The final scene as things fall apart is incredible as arrows rain upon Spider’s Web Castle and trap the villainous Washizo, played masterfully by Kurasawa favourite Toshiro Mifune (Lucas’s first choice for Obi-Wan Kenobi).
Caesar Must Die
Filmed in a prison with the characters played by prisoners, this version of Julius Caesar is a marvel. It’s viewed through, first, the auditions for a prison production of Julius Caesar and then the rehearsals. The thing that makes it incredible is how the rehearsals begin to take over the prisoners’ lives until they are finding mirrors of their own lives in Shakespeare’s text. Because the stage is not ready, the actors/prisoners rehearse anywhere they can leading to cell block conspiracies and exercise yard assassinations. Filmed in gorgeous black and white, this is a fun, dark, engrossing take on Julius Caesar that is handily available on Netflix.
ShakespeaRe-Told – Macbeth
This one is a bit of a cheat as it might be hard to find now. (I think DVD is going to be the best option.) Shown on the BBC in 2005, this film was part of a series called ShakespeaRe-Told, in which four plays were adapted by different writers and updated to modern day. The best of the four was Macbeth. Set in a kitchen full of knives and animal blood, the story follows young Macbeth (James McAvoy) as he tries to kill his way to being the top celebrity chef. It is brilliant with a great cast (Keely Hawes, Toby Kebbel, Richard Armitage) and a rich, evocative setting as the back-stabbing (literal and figurative) occur in the alleys of London or on the shiny surfaces of the hectic kitchen, under the watchful eyes of three soothsaying bin men.