Shakespeare, the Movie: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, and Video

By Lynda E. Boose; Richard Burt | Go to book overview
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The recent proliferation of mechanically and electronically reproduced Shakespeare has provided examples of all three of Jorgens's modes. The Trevor Nunn and Janet Suzman versions of Othello, both based on stage performances adapted for television, remain in the theatrical mode, whereas both Derek Jarman's The Tempest and Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books can be described as filmic. But the majority of the commercial Shakespeare films released since Henry V remain realist productions grounded squarely in the conventions of naturalistic cinema.
In an illuminating essay in Sight and Sound magazine, Claire Monk discusses the ambivalent relationship to the heritage genre of another recent British film, Christopher Hampton's Carrington:

Carrington treats its audience to the visual, literary and performative period pleasures associated with that critically despised but highly exportable British product, the heritage film, while pointedly seeking to distance itself, through various strategies, from the supposed conservatism these films were so often condemned for in the 80s and early 90s, particularly their innate escapism, and their promotion of a conservative, bourgeois, pastoral, “English” national identity.

(Monk 1995:33)

In my view Carrington mostly fails in this endeavor, at times revealing a self-righteous hypocrisy equivalent to that of many of its Bloomsbury subjects, while Richard III is more successful.

McKellen comments on the aptness of Loncraine's use of Jolson in the screenplay:

When [Richard Loncraine] invited me to see the first rough-cut of Richard III at the studios of Interact in west London a month after shooting, I relished the double irony of the Al Jolson song which he had overlaid on the final frame of his film. Richmond and Richard simultaneously feel, in the moment their fates collide, that they are sitting on top of the world.

McKellen's remarks suggest that the song was not part of the initial conception of the scene, and that McKellen at least may have been unaware of the Cagney parallel (McKellen 1996:286).

Barthes, R. (1977) “The Third Meaning: Research Notes on Some Eisenstein Stills.” In Image/Music/Text, ed. and trans. S. Heath. New York: Hill & Wang.
Hammond, A. (1981) The Arden Shakespeare: King Richard III London: Methuen.
Jorgens, J. (1977) Shakespeare on Film. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.
Kennedy, Dennis (1993) Foreign Shakespeare: Contemporary Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kott, J. (1967) Shakespeare Our Contemporary. Trans. B. Taborski. London: Methuen.
McKellen, I. (1996) William Shakespeare's Richard III: A Screenplay. Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press.
Manheim, R., and J. Willett, eds (1977) Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry and Prose, vol. 6. New York: Vintage.
Monk, C. (1995) “Sexuality and the Heritage, Sight and Sound 5, 10 October.


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Shakespeare, the Movie: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, and Video


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