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As you’re probably well aware, there are bazillions of versions of Romeo and Juliet on film. From the silent era through the present day, the pair has inspired countless adaptations from the faithful to the fun-house.  Below I’m listing a few of my favorites, but please share your favorites in the comments!

R&J Animated

When I was growing up, one of my favorite tapes to rent from Video Scene was the BBC Animated Romeo and Juliet featuring several famous voices and gorgeous animation by Christmasfilms. Using an abridgment of Shakespeare’s text, adapter Leon Garfield unfolded the tragic tale in under 30 minutes. It’s available on DVD, now, but preview it on YouTube!

The BBC Television Shakespeare series from the 1970’s might not be the most engaging to watch in its entirety, but if you’ve ever wanted to see a young Alan Rickman in tights as Tybalt, well, this version is a treat! No matter which scene you want to focus on, this full-text version is sure to have it, too. Keeping with the traditionally set, Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film is still held in high regard. It’s authenticity of setting and the leads’ ages, as well as the wonderful performances by the entire cast make it infinitely watchable, even today. (Though, of course, with at least one scene post-wedding edited out for classrooms!)

Romeo+JulietSome modern-setting versions have kept the original text, as well, most famously in Baz Luhrman’s 1996 version set in Verona Beach. Even while it pokes fun (the guns are named “Dagger” and “Longsword,” for example), the story, edited from Shakespeare’s text, moves with an intense urgency. Additionally, the independently conceived and filmed Private Romeo uses Shakespeare’s text with a group of army-school cadets left alone at their campus. While it falters in places, it’s beautiful to see these young men using Shakespeare’s words to express themselves.

Finally, there are some wonderful new stories inspired by Shakespeare’s inspiration to re-tell the timeless cautionary tale of two warring groups whose youthful innocents fall in love with each other. West Side Story is the most familiar along these lines, and is a theatrical hallmark in its own right. Comparing this musical to Shakespeare’s play when I was a kid is what led me to be so interested in adaptation as an art form. Potentially less-inspiring, however, it’s worth noting that both The Lion King II and Gnomeo and Juliet are also inspired by these themes, though with happier endings for their young audience.

Shakespeare in LoveThere’s not much room to mention Shakespeare in Love, but I’m going to have to. It’s a funny and touching imagining of how young Will Shakespeare was inspired to write this famous play from his own romantic experience . It’s totally laughably historically inaccurate, of course, but it does not claim to be so and is, instead, a whimsical love-letter to the Bard.

This could go on and on, of course. There are ballets, operas, TV mini-series, anime series, and so many other milieus into which this play has been re-imagined. Sometimes these adaptations illuminate different facets of Shakespeare’s play for consideration the next time we study it. Do these examples fit the bill? Not always, but at least we can enjoy the ride. What is your favorite example of Romeo and Juliet on the big screen?

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Image from Shakespeare’s Globe

As I mentioned in my post, “Oh, to Be in England” on May 3,  Shakespeare’s Globe is presenting a marathon of 37 plays with acting companies from around the world. But if you can’t get to the Globe to Globe Festival, there is now an alternative. A UK site called The Space is running  full-length videos of them for free. And the best part is, you don’t need to stand in the cold and rain as the audiences seem to be in these videos.

Here are the ones available at this posting:

Image from The Space

  • Twelfth Night by Mumbai’s Company Theatre is a colorful and musical version, filled with dancing, performed in Hindi with scene descriptions in English. Lyn Gardner in London’s Guardian wrote, “The beguiling, melancholy heart of the play is ignored in favour of non-stop jokes. Fun? Definitely. Accessible? Completely, even if you didn’t speak the language.”

Image from The Space

  • Measure for Measure is performed in Russian (with English subtitles) by Moscow’s Vakhtangov Theatre. Critic Veronica Lee said of this production in The Arts Desk, “What a joy this once-in-a-generation season is. From Moscow comes this free-wheeling production of Shakespeare’s great morality play.”

Image from The Space

  • Pericles is performed in Greek with scene description in English. “Thanks to a slapstick production courtesy of the National Theatre of Greece, and the Globe’s ambiance (helped by the fact that the rain stayed off), better than you might imagine – not least because London’s Hellenic community seemed to be out in force to watch it,” wrote Alex Needham in The Guardian.

Image from The Space

  • Venus and Adonis is performed in a variety of languages by the Isango ensemble from Cape Town, South Africa. Spoken in IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, SeSotho, Setswana, Afrikaans & South African English, the production is musically and visually thrilling. While this is not a play but a narrative poem, it counts as number 38 for the Globe.

Image from The Space

  • Richard III is  performed in Mandarin (with scene descriptions in English) by the National Theatre of China. According to the Year of Shakespeare Blog, “the production was preceded by Dominic Dromgoole, the Globe’s Artistic Director, announcing that all of the production’s equipment was in a shipping container stranded somewhere between Beijing and London.  The costumes and props we were about to see, he explained, had been cobbled together at the last minute from the Globe’s stores.”

Image from The Space

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream is performed in Korean (with scene description in English) by the Yohangza Theatre Company. According to Adele Lee, “Performed in a mixture of Korean theatre styles, including song, dance, mime, acrobatics and martial arts, the production was vibrant, energetic and immensely enjoyable, and the cast did a great job of overcoming the language barrier and forming an excellent rapport with the predominantly English-language speaking audience. “

So far that’s all the videos that The Space has posted, but if you want to see the rest of the Globe’s season, keep checking it out. And if you do watch any of these full-length productions, be sure to add your comments below.

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Coriolanus Poster

I was fortunate recently to see 10 scenes from Coriolanus, starring and directed by Ralph Fiennes. The presentation at the NY-based Shakespeare Society was part of an informative discussion by David Scott Kasten.

 The film doesn’t officially open until January, but here is the trailer.  In addition to Fiennes, the film stars Vanessa Redgrave as his mother, Volumnia and Jessica Chastain as his wife, Virgilia. Also in the cast are Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, and John Kani.

Also coming soon to a theater near you according to IMDB are a host of Shakespeare-related titles. Here they are:

  •  Much Ado About Nothingdirected by Joss Whedon  was “filmed in just 12 days entirely on location in exotic Santa Monica.”  on the film’s site, director Whedan says, “The text is to me a deconstruction of the idea of love, which is ironic, since the entire production is a love letter – to the text, to the cast, even to the house it’s shot in.” Shot in black & white, the film stars Amy Acker  and Alexis Denisof  as Beatrice and Benedick, features Castle star Nathan Fillion as Dogberry.
  • Messina High also based on Much Ado About Nothing.  It seems that Beatrice and Benedick’s  names have been changed to Bernice and Benny and the “teen comedy” is set in Marin County, California, but not many more details are available yet.
  • Hamlet A.D.D. is probably the strangest film to watch for. According to the film’s Website, “Hamlet is an easily distracted prince who is not quite ready to do the task at hand. Challenged to kill his uncle Claudius by the ghost of his recently dead dad, Hamlet enthusiastically proceeds to do everything but. From practicing stage acting in the 1800s to producing a television drama in the 1950s, from dancing at the discotheque in the 1970s to culinary prankery in the distant future, Hamlet always manages to find something to distract himself from taking revenge for his father’s murder. Shot entirely in front of a green screen, HAMLET A.D.D. features live-action characters in a colorful cartoon world.

Also in pre-production are a new version of Romeo and Juliet starring Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet and Douglas Booth as Romeo and a film simply called Rosaline also starring Steinfeld. According to IMDB, the latter film, based on a novel by Rebecca Searle,  tells the story of a young girl  who is dumped by a guy who immediately falls for another girl with whom he forms a suicide pact. Sound familiar?

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Lots of new Shakespeare films are in the pipeline, so now may bew a good time to post some updates:

  • Coriolanus, directed and starring Ralph Fiennes is scehduled for a November 2011 release. It also stars Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler, and Brian Cox and was filmed in Serbia and Montenegro.
  • King Lear, directed by Michael Radford and starring Al Pacino is in pre-production, and no other cast members have been announced.
  • Also in pre-production is a new version of Romeo and Juliet, starring the 14-year old Hailee Steinfeld, who recently appeared in True Grit. Her appearance has already caused some controversy since the director calls for a nude scene.

And then there are the odd ones like:

  • // Hamlet A.D.D  Here’s the descriptiion from imdb.com: “Hamlet is an easily distracted prince who is not quite ready to do the task at hand. Challenged to kill his uncle Claudius by the ghost of his recently dead dad, Hamlet enthusiastically proceeds to do everything but. From practicing stage acting in the 1800s to producing a television drama in the 1950s, from dancing at the discotheque in the 1970s to culinary prankery in the distant future, Hamlet always manages to find something to distract himself from taking revenge for his father’s murder. Shot entirely in front of a green screen, HAMLET A.D.D. features live-action characters in a colorful cartoon world.”
  • Messina High is based on Much Ado About Nothing, and not much info is available on it at this time. It is directed by and stars Owen Drake as Benny Highcliff (get it?) and Kandice Melanokos as Bernice Leonard. Not unexpectedly, you can finf the film on Facebook.

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