Shakespeare at the Movies
Shakespeare at the Movies

I knew Shakespeare was alive when our daughter after an exhausting day at school burst through the front door and bellowed out, “I’m vexed.” It’s a wonder she didn’t say, “Zounds, I’m vexed.”

Yes, Shakespeare lives on as an international superstar in theatre, books, and movies. He still conjures worlds, peoples planets, and wands words into being like a rabbit in heat. He still tells us what’s going on.

Why does he matter? Because he generates the most linguistic vitality to ever fall from a tongue, to ever rap on an ear. Because of language like this from The Tempest:

What’s past is prologue.

If you’re thinking you’d like to have a better future than you had a past, why not consider the past as a prologue, merely the beginning of the good that is to come?

Hell is empty and all the devils are here.

What a powerful thought this is. The real devils are ourselves, the ones who live around us and within us.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

Has anyone ever said that better? Life is a dream and a sleep.

A pox o’ your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog!

Shakespeare is as good at curses as he is at blessings.

Increasingly now when I want to hear Shakespeare I go to the cinema to see a movie of one of his plays.

These are my Top Ten Shakespeare movies:

1. Shakespeare in Love (Dir. John Madden; Writers Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard). An academy award-winner with Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes and Geoffrey Rush. Takes you inside Elizabethan theatre, its politics, romances and rivalries.

2. Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books, Greenaway’s version of The Tempest. John Gielgud’s voice sounds the way you’d like to imagine Shakespeare himself sounding.

3. Lawrence Olivier’s Othello, a physical performance worthy of an athlete.

4. Peter Brook’s King Lear, with Paul Scofield as the broken king. The landscape is desolate, fires burning to keep away the cold and the dark, feels ancient and mythical.

5. Hamlet, the Mel Gibson version. There are as many versions of Hamlet as there are fake Mona Lisas, but this one does what movies are supposed to do—it moves.

6. The Merchant of Venice, with Al Pacino as Shylock. You understand from the inside what it’s like to be an outsider, a foreigner.

7. Titus (Dir. Julie Taymor, starring Anthony Hopkins). Taymor reinvents Titus Andronicus in riveting ways. If you own the DVD, be sure to watch the added features, including the cast’s first reading of the play.

8. Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler). If you want to understand the power of mothers over sons, see this movie.

9. Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet.There are sweeter, more romantic movie versions of the play, but none with the energy and pizzazz of this one. It ripples with life; it moves.

10. Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing. Light and fun, superb acting from Emma Thompson and a good performance by Denzel Washington.
J.S. Porter