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Movie Marathon Idea: Best of The Bard

September 22, 2011

He’s still the hippest storyteller around, whether you believe he actually wrote his legendary works, or not (Here’s looking at you, Roland Emmerich and Anonymous).  Shakespeare was a writer gifted with the ability to reach paupers and poets alike.   The invention of film paved the way for a whole new stage on which to showcase the works of one of the most influential geniuses in all of literature.  Here are three of the most unique and interesting adaptations of Shakespeare’s works.

1.) Hamlet (1996)

Skip the overblown Zeffirelli version with Mel Gibson; Kenneth Branagh’s full four-hour epic is worth savoring.  Choosing to move the setting of Shakespeare’s most lauded play forward to the 19th century, Branagh made use of the spectacle and pomp of the era in design choices that both fascinate and awe.  His Hamlet is awash in bright colors, symbolic mirrors and eerily long single takes that showcase the power of some of  The Bard’s most influential words ever written on the page.  Branagh reinvents the very baseline of the play, choosing to focus on its vibrant emotions rather than the dark and dreary undertones that dominate other adaptations.  It stands as a unique vision in a crowd of imitators.

2.)Titus (1999)

Julie Taymor’s adaptation of Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s bloodiest and most vengeful play, is not for the faint of heart.   At the center of the tale is the saga of betrayals within betrayals between the powerful Romans and the Goths.  Anthony Hopkins takes the title role, watching his machinations destroy his hapless offspring as he goes toe to toe in a battle of wits with Tamora, the Queen of the Goths (Jessica Lange).   It doesn’t sound like a crowd pleaser, but Taymor’s eye for turning the macabre into the beautiful is second to none.  The costumes and art direction are gorgeously complex, and some of the minor performances (especially Laura Fraser as the pitiable Lavinia) are nothing short of spectacular.

3.) Richard III (1995)

The much-maligned last Plantagenet king gets the updated treatment in this film that boasts a mesmerizing performance by Ian McKellan in the title role.  Transplanting the locations to a fictional 1930s England, it turns Richard into a mad but brilliant fascist who sets out to curtail the  excesses left behind by his soft-hearted brother.  This leads to an impressive body count.  Annette Bening is stunning, playing the not-so-merry widow of the previous king, Kristin Scott Thomas is Richard’s reluctant love interest, Anne Neville, and a young Robert Downey Jr. is the suave but unfortunate Lord Rivers.  The movie turns a straightforward history play into a lesson in style, showcasing  how murder and mayhem can be artful when backed by the introspective words of The Bard.

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