Cymbeline (1913): As they do with all the aggressively adapted scribblers, filmmakers—and theater troupes, for that matter—tend to gravitate to the same small, safe bunch of William Shakespeare works and ignore the rest. That’s why there are dozens of filmic Hamlet s and Romeo and Juliet s but only one Cymbeline , the Bard’s romantic tragedy about a princess who cross-dresses to hunt down her banished husband. A rarely staged play has, appropriately, been rarely filmed (save a requisite TV adaptation). It was likely mounted only because this was the mid-silent era, when studios turned nearly every piece of literature and theater into stagy one-reelers.
Chimes at Midnight (1966): In which Orson Welles bangs out four seldom-lensed Shakespeares— Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Merry Wives of Windsor—plus Henry V in under two hours. Being faithful isn’t always a virtue: even as it hacks its sources to little bits, Orson’s grimy, muscular opus is one of the finest Shakespeare pictures.
Antony and Cleopatra (1972): Despite having played Marc Antony in two separate Julius Caesar films (in 1950 and 1970), Charlton Heston was hungry for more. So, he directed and starred in this lesser-mounted sequel himself.
Titus (1999): When her stage production of The Lion King inevitably netted her a movie career, Julie Taymour bravely turned to a play traditionally written off as juvenile savagery. Titus Andronicus, the Bard’s first, has elements that would crop up, better formed, in future work (a Lady Ophelia character, an angry Moor). And though Taymour’s attempts to claim T.A. was superior to Macbeth and Othello proved laughable, her movie is insane enough, visually and conceptually, to sell it as a suitably intense piece of proto-Jacobean pulp.
Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000): Take a Shakespeare play that few beyond scholars and heads know, gut it to movie length, gut it even more by throwing in some Cole Porter numbers, cast actors (Alicia Silverstone, Matthew Lillard) who can’t sing, dance or do iambic pentameter, and voila! Possibly the worst movie ever made. Et tu, Kenneth Branagh?
Coriolanus (2011): Thanks, Ralph Fiennes, for exposing us to one of W.S.’s most interestingly problematic plays.
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