History: E230_Film_Recs

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A Midsummer Night's Dream. Adrian Noble's whimsical, colorful 1996 production is a delight, bringing together actors partly from the Royal Shakespeare Company; renowned director Barry Lynch plays Puck. (Miramax, DVD 2002. 103 minutes) Michael Hoffman's 1999 version is also good (DVD 2003, and of historical interest is Max Reinhardt's 1935 black & white production, in which James Cagney plays Puck. (Warner Brothers, DVD 2007. 143 minutes.)

Twelfth Night. I like Trevor Nunn's 1996 production, starring Imogen Stubbs as Viola/Cesario, Helena Bonham Carter as Countess Olivia, Toby Stephens as Duke Orsino, and Ben Kingsley as Feste the Clown. (Renaissance Films, DVD 2005. 134 minutes.)

The Merchant of Venice. Michael Radford directed an excellent 2004 production. It stars Jeremy Irons as Antonio the Merchant, Al Pacino as Shylock, Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio, and Lynn Collins as Portia. (Sony, DVD 2005. 138 minutes.)

Henry V. Kenneth Branagh's 1989 production is riveting, with a stellar cast of actors such as Branagh himself (Henry V), Paul Scofield (the aged French King), Emma Thompson (Princess Katharine), Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench. (Goldwyn/Renaissance Films, DVD 2000. 138 minutes.) Laurence Olivier's 1948 version, in the wake of WWII rather than Vietnam, is excellent in a different key. (Criterion, DVD 1999. 137 minutes.)

Macbeth. Roman Polanski's 1971 production starring Jon Finch and Francesca Annis is among the best. (Sony, DVD 2002. 140 minutes.) Also excellent is Philip Casson's 1978 Royal Shakespeare Company version starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. (A&E Home Video, DVD 2004. 146 minutes.) Of historical interest is Orson Welles' eccentric 1948 production (DVD import from South Korea, ASIN: B000B65ZGM). Inspired by the play is Akira Kurosawa's 1961 samurai-themed film Throne of Blood. (Criterion, DVD 2003. 110 minutes.)

Hamlet. Kenneth Branagh's very full 1996 production is usually considered definitive amongst modern versions. (Warner Home Video, DVD 2007. 242 minutes.) But over versions are worth watching: Franco Zeffirelli's 1991 production starring Mel Gibson is good (Warner Home Video, DVD 2004, 130 minutes); older efforts are Laurence Olivier's 1948 black & white "psychoanalytic"-themed version (Criterion, DVD 2000. 155 minutes), and Grigori Kozintsev's 1964 Russian production. (Facets, DVD 2006. 140 minutes.) A fine dress rehearsal production is Sir John Gielgud's 1964 Hamlet, starring Richard Burton and, as Claudius, Broadway star (and my namesake) Alfred Drake (Image Entertainment, DVD 1999. 191 minutes.)

King Lear. Michael Elliott directed a frail but razor-sharp Laurence Olivier in the most moving production of this play in modern times. Made in 1984, it also stars Diana Rigg (Regan) and John Hurt (the Fool), among others. (Kultur Video, DVD 2000. 158 minutes.) But there are other good versions, among them the 2008 Trevor Nunn production starring Ian McKellen and actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company (PBS, DVD 2009. 150 minutes). I saw this production myself at UCLA's Royce Hall, and McKellen was superb as always, though the production seems to get mixed reviews. There's also Peter Brook's 1971 black & white version starring Paul Scofield, which unfortunately is only available in the US on VHS. (Columbia Tristar GB, VHS. 131 minutes. ASIN: B00004CJCT.) Another interesting choice would be Russian director Grigori Kozintsev's 1975 black & white, English-subtitled production starring Yuri Yarvet as Lear. (Facets, DVD 2007. 132 minutes.) Ditto for Richard Eyre's 1997 Royal National Theatre version starring Ian Holm as the king. (WGBH Boston, DVD 2004. 150 minutes.)

Antony and Cleopatra. A solid recent production is that of Jon Scoffield, 1995. (Lions Gate, DVD 2004. 161 minutes.) Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton shine in Darryl Zanuck and Joseph Mankiewicz's 1963 adaptation Cleopatra (20th-Century Fox, DVD 2006. 192 minutes). Claudette Colbert is excellent in another adaptation, 1934's Cleopatra directed by Cecil B. DeMille. (Universal Studios, DVD 2009. 100 minutes.) If you like the Roman plays, by the way, how about Julie Taymor's 2000 film Titus (20th-Century Fox, DVD 2006. 162 minutes), which stars Anthony Hopkins as the old general and makes a masterpiece of Shakespeare's early, bloody revenge play, or Joseph Mankiewicz's 1953 black & white Julius Caesar, starring Marlon Brando as Marc Antony? "When comes such another?" (Warner Home Video, 2006. 121 minutes.)

The Tempest. I'll recommend the BBC's 1980 production starring Michael Hordern as Prospero and Pippa Guard as Miranda. (BBC, DVD 2003 Comedies Set. 150 minutes.) Some like Derek Jarman's moody 1979 version (Kino Video, DVD 2000. 95 minutes). Loosely inspired by the play is Paul Mazursky's film Tempest starring John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Susan Sarandon, and Molly Ringwald (Sony, DVD 2007. 142 minutes). And don't forget Fred M. Wilcox's 1956 sci-fi film Forbidden Planet, starring Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis. (Warner Home Video, DVD 2006. 98 minutes.)


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