The Classics: Showing at a Theater near You Screen Adaptations of Literary Works Are Hotter Than Ever; of them,'Othello,' 'Richard III,' and 'Clueless' Stand Out

By David Sterritt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 17, 1996 | Go to article overview

The Classics: Showing at a Theater near You Screen Adaptations of Literary Works Are Hotter Than Ever; of them,'Othello,' 'Richard III,' and 'Clueless' Stand Out


David Sterritt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Jane Austen is hotter than Quentin Tarantino, a national magazine proclaimed recently. What's behind the wave of literary adaptations that have arrived on-screen in unusual numbers?

It's hard to generalize about this, since the films themselves take very different forms - highly refined Austen renditions on one hand, wild and woolly Shakespeare extravaganzas on the other. As a group, they demonstrate the continuing vitality of classic literature as a source for mass-audience art. But they vary so much in sense and sensibility that few moviegoers will find all of them appealing.

One message of the current Shakespeare boom is a reminder that violence and vulgarity weren't invented by Hollywood producers, however much today's political rhetoric may suggest to the contrary. Then again, the Bard wrote plays of many kinds, and it's hardly an accident that modern-day interpreters gravitate more frequently toward his harrowing tragedies than his lighter, more optimistic works.

"Othello" and "Richard III" are serious efforts by highly regarded artists. Each contains enough nasty or explicit stuff to earn its R rating, though, and to hold its own in today's market for uninhibited entertainment.

Of the two, "Richard III" is the more brilliant and the more disturbing. Directed by Richard Loncraine, who wrote the adaptation with actor Ian McKellan, it moves the time of the play to about 60 years ago, depicting the protagonist as a fascist dictator whose evil star is ominously on the rise.

This sort of time-juggling can seem gimmicky when poorly done, but here it's ingeniously handled, making the troubled 1930s seem a natural habitat for Shakespeare's exploration of personal and political treachery. McKellan's performance makes up in urgency what it lacks in charisma - rarely does an actor work so conscientiously to make himself utterly unlikable - and while Annette Bening is less than memorable as Queen Elizabeth, gifted actors like John Wood and Jim Broadbent fill supporting roles skillfully.

Nigel Hawthorne, Dame Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Robert Downey Jr. round out the cast.

"Othello" gets off to a shaky start because of a language problem. Playing the title character in his Shakespeare debut, Laurence Fishburne tries to fudge his distinctively American speech patterns by giving his R's a mild British roll, and the mannerism doesn't suit him comfortably. Adding to the problem is the stew of international accents that share the soundtrack with him, including the French lilt of Irene Jacob's Desdemona and the English tones of Kenneth Branagh's Iago, plus others in less prominent roles.

A certain amount of multiculturalism is built into "Othello," which centers on a man not quite at home in his adopted land, but that doesn't mean it can withstand the distractions of too many linguistic layers.

Fortunately, director Oliver Parker manages to control the cacophony once the early scenes have passed, and Fishburne eventually settles into his role, giving Othello a poignant mixture of authority and anxiety. The movie's tone is at once pungent and poetic, and Branagh - of whom I am not normally a fan - is a superb Iago, showing once again how easily this insidious evildoer can take over the show when given half a chance. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Classics: Showing at a Theater near You Screen Adaptations of Literary Works Are Hotter Than Ever; of them,'Othello,' 'Richard III,' and 'Clueless' Stand Out
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.