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Before Shaq Was Cool Shak Was Cool

In last week’s post I discussed whether the Trump White House resembles a Shakespearean comedy, or worse, a tragedy, or worse still, both. I guess the world shall have to wait ‘with breath that is bated’ for the answer to that one….

In the meantime, I want to impart my love for all things Shakespeare in the hope of getting you excited too!

Noooo! Please don’t stop reading just yet. He really is one of the cleverest writers ever, so don’t let your eyes glaze over with the mere thought of iambic pentameters. Instead, check out my movie adaptation recommendations of some of Shakespeare’s best plays. You’ll be so enamored with the sets, acting, costumes, and most importantly plots and the inevitable intrigue that follows, you’ll be halfway through watching before realizing you’re listening to actual Shakespearean dialogue! In no particular order, I bring you a few of my favorites:

Kenneth Branagh sure loves Shakespeare. He has starred in both stage and movie productions of just about everything Shakespeare wrote, but for Henry V he outdid himself. He not only starred, but wrote the movie adaptation and directed it, winning Oscar nominations in both the acting and directing category. He sticks closely to Shakespeare’s original script, although he does include a couple of flashbacks to Henry IV Parts I and II for context. If you like war movies, (come on, everyone loves Saving Private Ryan!) you'll love this one. Try it on for size, and you’ll also be able to wow your friends at the next trivia night because you'll know where the term “Band of Brothers” came from!

Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona Beach, and pitches two mob families against each other. The dialogue is legit though, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes do an excellent job as the original star-crossed lovers. It's one of my favorite DiCaprio performances, and certainly better than his other Luhrmann collaboration a couple of decades later (Gatsby) which, IMHO, is dreadful. As is typical with Baz Luhrmann pics, everything, including the costumes and sets, is completely outrageous, but that makes for great cinema, and there really are some excellent performances by an all-round great cast. It’s a great way for a beginner to dip their toes in Shakespearean waters.

Al Pacino does nothing in small measure, possibly to make up for his small stature, and sometimes I find him a bit over the top, although I loved him as the softly spoken Michael Corleone in The Godfather. But I loved him even more as Shylock in the movie adaptation of Merchant of Venice. Listed as a Shakespearean comedy (I’ll never figure that one out), it portrays the excruciating discrimination of the Jewish class by Venetian society, and highlights how obsession, vengeance and hubris can lead to self-destruction, even though you want to feel sorry for the guy. It didn't get the greatest of critical reviews, partly because of Pacino's over-the-top performance, but I for one loved it. It will leave you with a great sense of the injustices of society, and a realization that while things may change they also seem to stay the same.

Okay, I lied. I saved the best for last. At least in my book. The Ian McKellen 1995 movie adaptation of Richard III will blow you away. It is set in a dystopian Nazi Britain circa 1930. Instead of a populist like Hitler, plotting to take control of Germany, McKellen’s Duke of Gloucester (who, through murder and trickery gets crowned Richard III), takes on the British Monarchy instead. Nazi symbolism is forefront in this adaptation, and McKellen’s Richard is the most dastardly villain imaginable. With excellent supporting performances by Annette Benning and Robert Downey Jr., this will capture your attention, I promise.

Do you have a favorite movie adaptation of Shakespeare I haven’t mentioned? Let us know below what works of Will trips your switch!

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