Recommend me some Shakespeare DVDs

Recently I got a copy of *“Much Ado About Nothing” *on DVD, the Kenneth Branagh version. I liked it, very much. I’ve also got the Franco Zeffirelli “Romeo and Juliet”, and a copy of “Othello” done in a modern setting with modernized language - it is good, but not great. I would like to collect/watch some more Shakespeare on DVD. So, what do you recommend as the best versions?

Just for reference - I probably prefer that it’s actual Shakespeare, not “updated” to modern language, because I really like the language of Shakespeare. But I can be persuaded, so if it’s updated and particularly good, recommend it anyway.

I don’t mind if they change the setting. I love “Revenger’s Tragedy” and I liked the way that was set in post-apocolyptic England. I know that’s not Shakespeare but it is a similar period of language.

Roman Polanski’s Macbeth is a really dark and disturbing version. I believe that it was the first film he made after the murder of his wife.

Henry V by Branagh is his best Shakespeare film followed closely by his Hamlet. (IMHO)
There is a recent Richard III with Ian McKellen that is really great with it set in the '30’s-40’s.


Helena Bonham Carter did a pretty good Twelfth Night about ten years back that’s worth checking out.

More in the realm of “updating” Shakespeare, Akira Kurosawa did some great samurai movies using Shakespeare’s stories. Throne of Blood is his take on MacBeth, and his masterpiece Ran is a retelling of King Lear. Obviously, you lose the language, but they’re magnificent films.

Also fun is Scotland, PA, which recasts MacBeth as a power struggle in a fast food chain in the 1970s. Again, it doesn’t use Shakespeare’s text, but it’s a great dark comedy, and a rare turn from Christopher Walken as a good guy.

Ditto this. I know that there is a large degree of subjectivity to all this, but I’ll just say that Branagh’s Henry V was pivotal in my appreciation for Shakespeare, both performed and as text.

That said, I really can’t stand his Much Ado About Nothing (though I think that’s more about my opinion of the play itself rather than the particular production).

I know it gets a bad rap, but I find Mel Gibson’s Hamlet to be a very interesting take on the play, especially in contrast to something like Branagh’s version.

There are a number of film adaptations of King Lear that are interesting as well (one staring Laurence Olivier that I’d recommend).

Try Richard III, starring Ian Mckellan. It sets the play in pre-WWII England and gives Richard a fascist bent.

The 1980 BBC version of Twelfth Night is definitive. Felicity Kendal is fantastic as Viola.

Oh, *Looking for Richard *is a great movie. It isn’t “actually Shakespeare” but it is really about the plays of Shakespeare and how to think about them. Richard III in particular.

Check out Oliviers *Hamlet *and then compaire it to the Keneth Branagh version. They are VERY different but both very good in their own way. Branagh’s Henry V is a masterpiece of course.

Check out anything staring Orson Welles. His *Othello *is wonderful (if you can get past Wells not actually being Black) and if you can find a copy of Chimes at Midnight you are in for a treat. I second the Polanski MacBeth. It’s very strange, but I think captures the spirit of Shakespeare better than most modern film versions do.

Lastly check out what Akira Kurosawa did with Shakespeare. *Throne of Blood *is a classic version of MacBeth set in fudal Japan and *Ran *is better than any other version of King Lear you will find.

I will second both of these as well.

Branagh’s Hamlet is fantastic. Shakespeare doesn’t do much for me, but I really love his Hamlet.

Thanks everybody! I’ll be checking these out.

Browsing Amazon, I see a bunch of earlier films - ?black and white mostly? - starring people like Olivier and Hepburn and so on. Those names sound familiar but are a bit before my time. I guess they were the best in their era. Are any of those still among the best, or have they been superceded by more recent versions? I don’t mind watching black & white if the film’s good.

Eonwe: Re Much Ado: the plot’s a bit silly, but I still loved it.

I see NAF1138 answered my question about the older flicks to some degree - anybody else recommend them?

Olivier is quite good, and his performance in Hamlet holds up, although time has not been kind to the rest of that movie. I’ve done an exercise in theatre classes where we watch one scene (usually the last scene) from several Hamlet movies in quick succession to look at the different choices that can be made. Olivier’s Hamlet is good, Mel Gibson’s is passable, Kevin Kline’s is kind of stuffy but decent, Richard Burton’s is OK, Branagh’s is quite good. And the offering of an old German translation set in (apparently) Transylvania with actors who’ve apparently been told to never, ever let anything be subtle was terrible, but the MST3K voices behind it made it wonderful.

Merchant of Venice done recently by Al Pacino (yes he is good in this) was a very good ‘straight’ version of the play.

To go a bit further, on that subject since you asked:

Olivier is generally considered to be the most revolutionary Shakesperian actor. (As an actor only, his directing was sort of shit.) But what he did with Shakespeare transformed how the material was performed was transformational. His style is now considered to be a bit to mannered for modern taste, but at the time he we doing totally revolutionary things like connecting the lines into sentences rather than stopping at each line break. If you are into acting at all, he was a huge step forward and everyone who works with Shakespeare is heavily influenced by what he did as an actor.

If you want to see something interesting check out compaire his Othello to Orson Wells’s. You will get a look at two great actors playing in totally different styles. Wells in the older stlye and Olivier in the newer style. Then check out Olivier’s Richard III and compair it to Ian McKellen (who worked with and was paritally trained by Olivier IIRC) to see what that style of Olivier’s became only a short time later. (Not by movie making time, but by actor generational time) Then compaire the Olivier Hamlet, or my preference Henry V, to Branagh’s versions of either film to see a much more modern style of acting even than McKellen’s. You can see Olivier’s style as the central pivot around the acting changes. It’s neat if you are into that sort of thing.
As an additional 2 cents, my only problem with Branagh’s Hamlet (well not the only one, but my biggest one) is that Branagh left the script uncut, and I think that for Hamlet that is a mistake. Shakespeare has a lot of repitition built into the scrip by design, and Hamlet in particular has an entire sub plot that has nothing to do with anything other than act as comentary on 1600s era politics. I go to Olivier as my definitive film version of the play.

Al Pacino really likes Shakespeare. His ***Looking for Richard ***totally changed my opinion about him as an actor. He is really good in it (as surprisingly, is Alec Baldwin in a small role).

I haven’t seen ***The Merchant of Venice ***yet, but it is on my Netflix queue…

You can spend a lifetime looking at Shakespeare on film. On magnificent failure is Welle’s

, which is visually stunning, but edited to a fragment of a truly good film. Oh, and you can get Welles’

on ebay from Europe, make sure that it is not limited to a DVD area (European DVDs do not work in USA if they are set up that way by the manufacturer.)

Richard III with Ian McKellen is great.

It falls into this category, don’t watch “Scotland PA.” (I just got through about half of it).
It’s an interesting idea. And in the hands of a better writer, director, and cast, I think the concept would work. But with the ones they have, it didn’t.

That comparison sounds really intriguing, NAF1138. I hadn’t thought of getting several versions and comparing them, rather than looking for the current-best one.

I have a deep, deep love for Romeo + Juliet. While the sets are updated, the language is still mostly Shakespeare.

I also recommend, after you have watched as many of the plays as you can, seeing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and the Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows.

Forbidden Planet.

Also, West Side Story.