Saturday, 26 April 2014
5 Great Shakespeare Films for His 450th Birthday
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935): MGM's 1935 version of A Midsummer Night's Dream may be best known for its all star cast, which included Dick Powell, Olivia de Havilland, Jean Muir, James Cagney, and Mickey Rooney, among others. That having said, there is much more to recommend this adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream than star gazing. The film was directed by legendary stage director Max Reinhardt, who had already directed the play on stage many times (the first being in 1927). Hal Mohr's cinematography is excellent; it is with good reason he won the Academy Award for Cinematography that year. The film also benefits from Ralph Dawson's superb editing (for which it also won an Oscar). While the performances of the cast vary in quality, none of them detract from the overall quality of what is a very good adaptation of the play.
Macbeth (1948): Nineteen forty eight was a very good year for Shakespeare adaptations, as this is also the year that Orson Welles' version of Macbeth was released. Those looking for a faithful adaptation of the play might wish to look elsewhere, as Mr. Welles did alter it substantially, among other things giving the weird sisters a bigger role. That having been said, Orson Welles' Macbeth is surprisingly effective, both moody and spooky in a way that one suspects the Bard must have meant it to be. Oddly enough, the film may actually have been helped by its shoestring budget, which forced Mr. Welles to make up for a lack of money with some inventive direction and cinematography. The end result is that Orson Welles' Macbeth is a dark and even strange film, in some respects as much a horror film as a tragedy. Macbeth also benefits greatly from its performances, with Orson Welles as Macbeth and Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth being particularly impressive. And while there have been those who have complained about it, I think Orson Welles made the right choice in having the performers speak with Scottish burrs. It gives this Macbeth an authenticity that is lacking many other adaptations of the Scottish Play.
Henry V (1989): Sir Kenneth Branagh's Henry V is not a loyal adaptation. Indeed, he even includes flashbacks from Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2. That having been said, it could very well be the best adaptation of the play on film as well as one of the very best Shakespeare movie adaptations. Indeed, Sir Kenneth Branagh's Henry V is simultaneously both a more true-to-life and yet more epic presentation of the play than has previously been seen on film. Indeed, the Battle of Agincourt takes place amidst rain and mud with the sort of violence one might expect of medieval combat. At the same time Henry V benefits from some truly memorable performances, not the least of which is Sir Kenneth Branagh as King Henry V himself. In my humble opinion no previous adaptation of the play was as great as Sir Kenneth Branagh's Henry V and I doubt any future adaptation will be as great either.