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Shakespeare On DVD

By New York City
April 23 marks the 448th birthday of William Shakespeare, who is not only history's most prolific playwright, but also a Guinness World Record holder for the most filmed author in any language. While only the dedicated scholars among us can -- or might even be willing -- to explore the over 400 films based on and inspired by the Bard's work, here is a small assortment of the films, taped stage productions, and television series worth taking a look at in honor of the occasion.

Olivier's Shakespeare (Hamlet / Henry V / Richard III)
This trilogy of Olivier's films is widely considered to be the definitive cinematic adaptations of these great tragedies. Indeed, Hamlet was the first British film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, and the first English-language sound film of the play. Yet, the film, which also stars Eileen Herlie and Jean Simmons, rankled purists, who were disheartened that Olivier and co-writer Alan Dent cut so much of the original text, including the characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Throne Of Blood
Without the utterance of a single word by Shakespeare, Akira Kurosawa's 1957 film is considered one of the best adaptations of Macbeth of all time. Of course, the famed Japanese director transplanted the landscape from the depths of Scotland to the highest mountains of feudal Japan -- all the better to create epic battle scenes with hundreds of actors fighting on horseback through a breathtaking foggy landscape and cinematography that is simply jaw-dropping in its audacity.

William Shakespeare: Comedy, Romance, Tragedy
This handsome boxed set contains three traditional Elizabethan-style productions: Thea Sharrock's As You Like It, Dominic Dromgoole's Love's Labour's Lost, and his Romeo & Juliet, shot live in beautiful high-definition at Shakespeare's Globe in London in 2009. The three plays also serve as a unique teaching tool as they introduce viewers to the experience of attending Shakespeare's plays at the Globe. Sweeping wide-shots provide views of audience members packed tightly in the pit, often leaning on the stage, as the actors (including the intelligent and fiercely funny Michelle Terry as the Princess of France in Love's Labour's Lost and the touching Adetomiwa Edun and Ellie Kendrick as the title characters in Romeo and Juliet) perform just inches away.

Slings & Arrows: The Complete Collection
This truly wonderful Canadian television series explores, over the course of three seasons, Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear as they're being produced at the fictional New Burbage Shakespeare Festival. The captivating Paul Gross stars as the mentally unstable Geoffrey Tennant, who becomes the troupe's harried artistic director following the sudden death of his predecessor and former mentor Oliver Wells (the gleefully obnoxious Stephen Ouimette), who just as suddenly starts haunting Geoffrey as he attempts to carry the baton. The series also features guest turns by such stars as Rachel McAdams, Geraint Wyn Davies, Colm Feore, and William Hutt, who is particularly moving as the legendary actor cast as King Lear while hiding the secret that he's dying of cancer.


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