Everybody loves Shakespeare and his plays, even folks who never set foot into a theatre, as there seems to be something magical in his dramas. His characters, exciting plots with twists, plus great dialogs make his literary works always fresh and timeless. It is as William Shakespeare was the Night Shyamalan of his days, giving his audience something new or unpredictable that set him aside from other screenwriters of his time, and made him immortal. Not many authors who wrote almost five hundred years ago remained popular through the ages and earned the honor of their plays being adapted into feature films. Well, Shakespeare is one of them, and more than one of his dramas or comedies has been made into a film with modern movie stars taking their roles as his popular villains or damsels in distress.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
This is one adaptation that made Generation X familiar with Shakespeare’s plays, which many thought was an impossible task. Kids from the nineties were more into Baywatch or action movies, but Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes proved everybody wrong in this critically acclaimed movie. Set in our present day, the Capulets and the Montagues are depicted as two crime families waging war against each other, while Romeo and Juliet are modern Bonnie and Clyde, enjoying their love in spite of everyone else.
It is one love story at its finest, and some bold move by its director who proved that pickup lines from the sixteenth century can still be used today with high success. This movie resonates with modern teenagers who thought it was pretty awesome. They didn’t have to read the whole play for their English class anymore but watch this cool movie instead. It was also some nice prelude to Shakespeare in Love that came out just two years later.
One of the reasons that Macbeth remains popular through the ages is because people just love power of any kind, and this is a story about power lust. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard excel as a power-hungry couple that ruthlessly pursues their enemies driven by some prophecy. This film is a must-see for all those students writing essays on Macbeth, with great performances plus gritty cinematography resembling works of Roger Deakins. This movie is one serious psychological study about a man hunted by his demons as well as one political thriller and a war drama. For those enjoying BraveHeart and the warfare between Scottish highlanders, Macbeth will be some real feast for their eyes.
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
It turns out William S. knew how to write comedies as well, but all his comedies are action comedies, probably because war or violence was more common. In this stylish adaptation, Kenneth Branagh plays Benedick, a sworn bachelor and one rough soldier who by the end of this movie falls under the spell of Beatrice. She is the real star of this show, being a strong female character who charms Benedick with her intelligence and wit.
This is probably one of Shakespeare adaptations with the most star power, including Keanu Reeves, Kate Beckinsale, and Denzel Washington. Perhaps Denzel’s performance as Don Pedro really brings some balance to this movie as he remains a bachelor, but helps others find their love as this story unfolds. Everyone who loves lighthearted comedies will enjoy this film, as a reminder not to take their lives too seriously.
It may be a far cry from a Lethal Weapon, but this version of Hamlet proved that Mel Gibson possesses a certain range as an actor. He is paired up with Glenn Close who shines as Queen Gertrude, as they retold the story about a troubled Danish prince trying to avenge his father’s death. Like other Shakespeare adaptations, this one is full of action and drama which is probably why Shakespeare is still popular to this day, even with the young audience. One thing about adaptation movies is that their script remains the same eternally, so it is up to actors or directors to infuse something new and fresh into their performances. Although, you may never underestimate the appeal of good sword fighting and answering that perpetual question of To be or not to be.
Henry V (1989)
Here is another marvelous adaptation featuring Kenneth Branagh, who clearly enjoys doing classic plays both in theatre and on a big screen. Depicting the life of Henry V, the heroic English monarch is worthy of a Shakespeare play. All history geeks across the world enjoyed this one, even if period drama is not their strong suit.
Henry is something like a modern Alexander the Great, a young fearless king who excels in warfare, but dies young before his ambitions are fulfilled. He is a soldier who cares about war more than love but earns the adoration of his people as a hero and their savior. This is also the first pairing of Branagh and Emma Thompson in William Shakespeare’s play adaptation.
If you are one of those students who prefer watching a movie adaptation rather than reading a play itself, be sure to watch these movies. The works of William Shakespeare represent a great study of human emotions and characters plus they are full of action and witty dialog. No one remains immune to their magic, even after five hundred years. We can relate to them because the author recognized universal strengths and human weaknesses furthermore immortalizing them through art. That is what makes some writers great and Shakespeare is unquestionably one of them.