Strange Shakespeare

We take a look at some of the more unusual adaptations of Shakespeare to hit the big screen…

William Shakespeare is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the English language, and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. There have been countless adaptations of his work both on and off the screen, and this week sees the release of Caesar Must Die, a version of the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar, performed in a Roman prison by inmates. This got us thinking about some of the other unusual adaptations of the Bard’s work.

Based on: The Taming of the Shrew

Arguably Heath Ledger’s breakout film, 10 Things I Hate About You is based on a Shakespeare play, but set in late 90s America, where Padua is the name of a high school.
The story is that of Cameron, the new kid at the school, who falls in love with the fair – but vapid – Bianca Stratford. Bianca cannot date until her older sister Kat does, so Cameron sets out to find her a date. The problem is that Kat has earned herself the nickname ‘The Shrew’ and is less than keen on dating anyone at all.
10 Things I Hate About You was mostly well received on it’s release, but has become a cult hit in the years since. Not least because of Heath Ledger’s wonderful performance of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Andy Williams!

Based on: Romeo and Juliet

A retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story – that of star cross’d lovers – set in a modern (and fictional) city of Verona. Luhrmann retained the original Shakespearean dialogue, and rather cleverly used TV news reports for both the opening and closing monologues.
The story is that of Romeo and Juliet, two teenagers belonging to families embroiled in a bitter feud. The two fall in love, but know that there is almost no way that they will be allowed to be together.
Romeo + Juliet starred Claire Danes, Leonardo DiCaprio, Paul Rudd and Pete Postlethwaite. The film was generally well received and still sits at 70% on Rotten Tomatoes. The soundtrack became a hit, and reached No. 2 on the US Billboard Albums Chart.

Based on: Coriolanus

The only one on this list not to be turned into a teen movie, Coriolanus is no less a slightly strange adaptation. Directed by Ralph Fiennes the story is, yet again, given a modern twist and the film is set in an alternate version of Rome, which is plagued by civil unrest, inequality and riots.
Shakespeare loved a good tragedy, and Coriolanus is certainly one of them. The story is of a banished hero of Rome, who must join forces with his sworn enemy in order to save the city that he loves. As well as Ralph Fiennes, the film starred Gerard Butler and Jessica Chastain. Fiennes carefully created a film that relies heavily on Shakespeare, but still feels relevant to our modern world.
Coriolanus was well received by critics, but had an unimpressive cinema run.

Based on: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Another modernisation of a Shakespeare play, set in an American High School. Starring Kirsten Dunst and Ben Foster, Get Over It is the classic love triangle story where Berke is dumped, pines for his girlfriend, decides to join the school musical to be close to her only to find himself falling for another.
Shakespeare’s romantic comedy plays can be seen as the basis for every romantic comedy ever made, but since Get Over It has A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a play within the film, there is more than just homage going on here.
Strangely, the film starred Sisqo – remember him? – and (perhaps not so strangely) did not fare very well with critics or at the box office. In fact, the film was called a ‘lobotomised updating of a Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by LA Weekly. Just goes to show that even the best source material can be messed up.

Based on: Twelfth Night

When Viola’s brother decides to head overseas, she dresses up as him to attend his school. There’s a good reason for it though; Viola is a high school soccer player, enraged at the misogyny of her own school. Not that dressing up as a man is a cure for misogyny…
The strangest part of this adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is not the fact that no one noticed that the petite and girly Amanda Bynes was a woman, but that the film also starred Channing Tatum and Vinnie Jones and was actually not as terrible as it sounds. OK, it was pretty bad – and Shakespeare’s subtle wit goes completely out the window – but there was something rather entertaining about the film; it definitely verges into so-bad-it’s-good territory.

There are literally hundreds of other Shakespeare adaptations…
Which one do you think is the oddest? Which is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.

Words: Brogen Hayes