Shakespeare for People Who Don't Like Shakespeare
This week we celebrated the birthday of William Shakespeare, a man who gave us some of the finest plays ever written and whose works continue to be performed. Now let me be honest and say that I love Shakespeare in just about every form in which he appears. Traditional staging to updated to re-imagined. However, I know that some folks out there just can’t sit through the long plays and Elizabethan language without getting bored or distracted. So here are some recommendations for people who might like to get the gist of the Shakespearean story without all the fancy dialogue.
Romeo and Juliet has inspired different interpretations over the years. One of the best is the musical West Side Story starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn. Italy becomes America. The Montagues and Capulets become street gangs. The Jets are native New Yorkers. The Sharks are Puerto Rican immigrants. Romeo is Tony (Beymer), a Jet. Juliet is Maria (Wood), the sister of one of the Sharks. Beautiful songs, energetic dancing, great performances all around in this Oscar winning movie.
Othello is the story of jealousy and its tragic consequences. My favorite re-telling is a BBC production also titled Othello, set at Scotland Yard in modern day London. Eamonn Walker gives one of his strongest performances in the title role of John Othello, with Keeley Hawes as his young wife Dessie and Christopher Eccleston as the evil, manipulative Ben Jago. Another modern version is “O” and uses an American high school setting. Mekhi Phifer stars as Odin James, with Josh Hartnett as jealous villain Hugo, and Julia Stiles as Desi, the girl Odin loves.
King Lear was recently updated to 19th century American West in King of Texas. Patrick Stewart stars as rancher John Lear, whose pride brings about his downfall. And Japanese director Akira Kurosawa gave us Ran, a version of the story set in feudal Japan.
Macbeth, a story of envy and the destructive drive for power, has also been interpreted in different ways. Kurosawa adapted the play as Throne of Blood, a tale set in feudal Japan. The great Toshiro Mifune starred. Macbeth also inspired a dark comedy version titled Scotland, Pa, starring James LeGros, Maura Tierney, and Christopher Walken.
Of course, Shakespeare wrote comedy, too. The Taming of the Shrew became 10 Things I Hate About You. Feuding Katherine and Petruchio became high school students Kat Stratford and Patrick Verona. Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger star is this fun remake.
Finally, BBC produced some imaginative modern remakes and updates in a series of movies titled ShakespeaRe-told. The four cutting-edge productions in this collection bring Shakespeare alive for a 21st century audience. Macbeth is the chef in a 3-star restaurant and stars James McAvoy and Keeley Hawes. Beatrice and Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing) are rival co-anchors, with Sarah Parish and Damian Lewis as the leads. Titania and Bottom (A Midsummer Night's Dream) carouse in a tawdry theme resort, starring Imelda Staunton and Bill Paterson. Outrageous Petruchio, played by Rufus Sewell, sets out to tame the conservative Kate, played by Shirley Henderson, in a politically incorrect marriage of convenience (The Taming of the Shrew).
So if you’ve never thought you’d like Shakespeare, try a few of these movies and let me know what you think. And if you’re like me, a fan of the Bard, tell me what your own favorites are, whether traditional or modern.