I was expecting more Shakespeare, fewer adaptations. Either way, Ethan Hawke's "Hamlet" is an enormous misstep.
The 25 best Shakespeare-to-screen adaptations
To film, or not to film, that is the question. We rank the answers.
Thu Oct 20 2011
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1935)
20. A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1935)
Shakespeare's tale of actors and other wild creatures got the suitably out-there film version it deserved in this giddy golden-age spectacle. Everything from codirector Max Reinhardt's emphasis on surreal set design (lifted from his 1934 Hollywood Bowl production) to the left-of-center casting choices (James Cagney as Bottom; Mickey Rooney as Puck) gives this comedy the proper topsy-turvy spin.—DF
19. HAMLET (1996)
Given all the deep editing these texts often get for the screen, hats off to Kenneth Branagh for filming all four hours of the melancholy Dane. This reverential epic was shot in England's glorious Blenheim Palace and stuffed with star cameos (Gielgud, Heston, Crystal, Williams). The gilded ballrooms and mirrored walls conjure up a Continental candy box—albeit one filled with poison sweets.—DC
18. HENRY V (1944)
From its theatrical meta-opening to the colorful pageantry of its battle scenes, Laurence Olivier's first foray into film directing set the standard for adapting Shakespeare. His ability to be reverent to the text while cinematically opening the play up became a template for tackling the Bard, and his Saint Crispin's Day speech—addressed to a Britain still reeling from the Blitz—remains a showstopper.—DF
17. ROMEO + JULIET (1996)
Baz Lurhmann's modern-dress take on those feuding Capulets and Montagues may be a whirlwind of stylistic sound and fury. But his ADD-afflicted aesthetic only heightens the breathless, fluttering teen romance that lies at the heart of this tale of star-crossed lovers, dreamily played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.—DF
16. PROSPERO'S BOOKS (1991)
Less an adaptation of The Tempest than a hallucination inspired by it, Peter Greenaway's unabashed art film is a baroque catalog of images, music, modern dance and naked flesh. Incanted by an elderly John Gielgud, the text offsets a sensual fantasia that borrows more than one page from Hieronymus Bosch.—AF
Although it's controversial, Olivier's 1965 "Othello" should have been included, and I would never have put Baz Luhrmann's desecration of "Romeo and Juliet" on the list. And what about the Orson Welles "Macbeth"?
Despite the negative reviews, I'm actually rather pleased with this list - so much so, in fact, that I've been using it as a reference as to which Shakespeare adaptations to watch. Yet I too am not without my reservations. That the 1996 Hamlet should below the 2000 version, and that the 1990 version should not be included, is inexcusable. Of all the films on this list, the one I think least worthy of being included is that adolescent schizophrenic cacophony of gaudy ostentation Romeo + Juliet (1996), although I understand why it is included (not why it ranks so highly, however). Still, there are some notable films that have been unduly neglected, some of which other users have previously mentioned: West Side Story (1961), 10 Things I Hate about You (1999), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999), and the grossly underrated The Tempest (2010). I have not seen Coriolanus (2011), though I'm sure it lives up to its hype.
A Shakespeare cinematic list that doesn't include Grigory Kozintsev's Hamlet (1964) and King Lear (1971) loses all validity.
The fact that Baz Luhrman's awful "Romeo and Juliet" and Ethan Hawke's dismal "Hamlet" are both on this list and Ralph Fiennes' superb Coriolanus, "West Side Story", and "10 Things I Hate About You" are not makes little to no sense. Also, Keanu Reeves was unwatchable in "Much Ado..."
I'm sorry, I can't trust a list that includes Forbidden Planet but not the BBC version of Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart. Or a list that ranks Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet below the 1968 version.