Monday List: 5 Great Shakespeare Adaptations

I tend to think Shakespeare is best live and in a theatre – but with no shortage of screen adaptations, there are plenty of gems in there amidst the dullness of others. In honour of tonight’s broadcast of King Lear on BBC Two (9:30pm), enjoy this list of other fab adaptations of Shakespeare’s work.

  1. Shakespeare Re-Told: Much Ado About Nothing
    Re-telling Shakespeare in modern-day English, this series saw James McAvoy as a murderous Michelin-starred Macbeth, Shirley Henderson and Rufus Sewell as warring politicians in The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in a caravan park. But none of those was as good as the joyous rewrite of Shakespeare’s best romcom (no arguments please) by David NichollsSarah Parrish and Damien Lewis are Beatrice and Benedick as broadcasters, whose bickering is too much to take for their colleagues. It’s light-hearted and funny, just as this play should be.
  2. The Hollow Crown: Richard II
    All of The Hollow Crown is fantastic; faithful to the text, beautifully shot and acted. This, the first of them, is still my favourite, partly because I love Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear, who star as Richard and Bolingbroke respectively. You can find my review from way back in 2012, when this was first aired here.
  3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Russell T Davies)
    If you’re looking for a more irreverent take on a classic than The Hollow Crown will give you, Russell T Davies’ version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream should be right up your alley. However well you think you know this story of fairies and donkey heads and lovers, the last ten minutes will definitely surprise you. It’s also as star-studded as tonight’s King Lear, with Maxine Peake, Matt Lucas, John Hannah, Elaine Paige, and a handful of excellent young RSC/Globe actors as Puck and the lovers.
  4. Shakespeare Live! From the RSC
    Not strictly a full adaptation, but this deserves a place on this list for the many joyous excerpts from Shakespeare scenes, starring many British national treasures. The Rory Kinnear/Anne Marie Duff Macbeth scene is so gripping, it makes the recent National Theatre production feel like even more of a let-down. And who can forget the hilarious ‘To Be or Not To Be?’ sketch, starring none other than Prince Charles.
  5. Romeo + Juliet (Baz Luhrmann, 1996)
    The absolute classic. I was planning to just focus on TV adaptations, but I couldn’t leave this out. Flashy and over-the-top and melodramatic, this is a perfectly teenagery, stylistic version of Shakespeare’s fatal romance, filled with lustful longing. Also Leonardo DiCaprio deserves to be on every list in existence.

#tbt: Dorothy Gibson

An ex-Nazi sympathiser who survived the Titanic, made a film about it, was arrested in Italy as an anti-Fascist agitator, and who was also a pioneering silent movie actress, Dorothy Gibson was the definition of living your best life.

Born today in 1889, in New Jersey, by the age of 20 she began modelling for Harrison Fisher, a famous commercial artist. 220px-Dorothy_by_fisherDorothy soon became Fisher’s favourite muse, and her image was seen regularly on postcards, merchandising products and even on the covers of magazines like Cosmopolitan.

As early as 1911, Dorothy began appearing in movies, starting out as an extra but soon taking the leading roles in a series of films by Éclair Studios. Praised for her natural acting style and comedic flair, she was a huge hit – and arguably the first actress to be promoted as a star in her own right.With contemporary Mary Pickford, Dorothy was the highest paid movie actress in the world at the time of her premature retirement in May 1912, from which time on she focused on her choral career.

The thing she’s most known for today, however, is nothing to do with her talents. On her way back from a holiday with her mother (Pauline) in Italy, Gibson became part of one the most famous events of the twentieth century. As Dorothy and Pauline played bridge in the lounge, their ship, the Titanic, crashed into an iceberg. Along with two of their game partners, they escaped into the first lifeboat launched (Lifeboat #7). After arriving back in New York, Dorothy’s manager persuaded her to appear in a film based on the scenario: the first ever film based on the disaster. Saved From the Titanic came out just one month later. Dorothy starred as herself, and also wrote the scenario, appearing in the same clothes she had actually been wearing on the night of the sinking.

Although Saved From the Titanic was a tremendous success in America, Britain, and France the only known prints were destroyed in a 1914 fire at the Eclair Studios in New Jersey. The loss of the motion picture is considered by film historians to be one of the greatest of the silent era.

But that’s not all…

Like any great actress of that era, naturally Dorothy had her share of salacious backstory, aside from any ship-based disasters. Between 1911-17, Dorothy embarked on a love affair with the married movie tycoon Jules Brulatour (co-founder of Universal Pictures). Brulatour was an advisor and producer for Dorothy’s main film company, Eclair, and backed several of her films, including Saved From the Titanic.

In 1913, while driving in New York, Dorothy struck and killed a pedestrian. So far, so irrelevant, right? But Dorothy was driving Brulatour’s car at the time (serious Great Gatsby vibes). In the court case that followed, then, it was revealed in the press that she was his mistress. Brulatour was actually already separated from his wife. Nonetheless, the humiliation of the scandal made her sue him for divorce, finalised in 1915. Dorothy and Brulatour then married, in 1917,  his fame and political power forcing him into legitimizing his relationship with Dorothy.

Two years later, the marriage’s legal status was challenged, and eventually dissolved as an invalid contract. Dorothy then left NYC for Paris to escape gossip and start a new life.

Fighting Fascism

By the time WW2 started, Dorothy and her mother were in Florence. The reasons for them staying there are hazy… Dorothy claimed it was because they were scared of the journey back to America after the whole Titanic incident. Others claim they stayed there willingly because they were Nazi sympathisers, and potentially even Fascist intelligence operatives!

However, by 1944 Dorothy had renounced her involvement, and was even arrested as an anti-Fascist agitator and jailed in a Nazi prison! She was sent to the Milan prison of San Vittore, from which she then escaped with two other prisoners, journalist Indro Montanelli and General Bartolo Zambon. The trio was aided through the intervention of Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, and by a young chaplain of the Milanese resistance group Fiamme Verdi, Father Giovanni Barbareschi.

Living in France, in 1946, Dorothy died of a heart attack in her apartment at the Hôtel Ritz Paris at the age of 56. Gibson’s estate was divided between her lover, with the spectacularly Latin name of Emilio Antonio Ramos, and her mother.

In the fifteen years between the death of Dorothy and herself, Pauline grew increasingly vocal about her criticism of the Allies and her support for the Nazis – we’re still unsure whether Dorothy echoed or challenged these sympathies.

So: Model Muse, Silent Movie Star, Titanic Survivor, Mogul Mistress, Nazi Spy, Anti-Fascist Agitator, Prison Camp Escapee. Dorothy Gibbons’s life was legendary.




Monday List: Top Five Noughties RomComs

Recently watching the adorable Love, Simon made me remember how much I love a good romcom. But as cute as Love, Simon was, the ones you really love are the ones from teenage cinema trips or sleepover binge-watching – the ones that you bought on DVD because they had great special features. These are the best of those iconic noughties romcoms (also Bridget Jones’s Diary should be on here but I was deprived of this until last year so for me it: not noughties)

Don’t @ me.

  • A Cinderella Story

A retelling of the classic fairytale but with Hilary Duff, Chad Michael Murray, Regina King and Jennifer Coolidge. Don’t let anyone tell you different, this is the king (or princess?) of the noughties high school romcom. So many iconic moments. The roller skating salmon-serving diner. The stepsisters synchronised swimming. The car wash scene. Coolidge is hilarious throughout and the ending is perfect. Also some great lines: “Because waiting for you is like waiting for rain in this drought. Useless and disappointing.”

  • Love Actually

Lots of funny and cute love stories in (mostly) London at Christmas. Yes, no one can deny this film is problematic. But also it deserves a place up here just for the end montage scene alone. ‘God Only Knows’ was a good song before, but combo it with loads of clips of people greeting their loved ones at Heathrow airport = genius. How anyone can listen to the soundtrack of this film without getting emotional is beyond me. Also shout out to the deleted scenes which are almost more emotional than Emma Thompson’s crying scene (almost).

  • 27 Dresses

A perennial bridesmaid meets a wedding hater and they fall in love while arguing over whether weddings are good. Deserves to be on this list simply for making James Marsden the romantic lead. Also because the costume team on this were insane; if you are planning a wedding, watch this for tips on how not to dress your bridesmaids. Like very good romcom, this has a stellar song number in the middle – this time it’s ‘Benny and the Jets’ sung in a bar after our protagonists (Marsden and Katherine Heigl) end up drunk smashing a car in a thunderstorm. The ultimate guilty pleasure movie.

  • Music and Lyrics

This film is criminally underrated. Hugh Grant is a faded pop star (think the Kemps from Spandeau Ballet) who can write music but not lyrics, and just so happens to meet Drew Barrymore, lyric genius, as he’s gets a possible comeback opportunity. Grant shows off the comedy, self-mockery that made him so great in Paddington 2 (what a movie). There’s also an amazing fake Ke$ha kinda pop star in this, who is hilarious. The songs are 👌👌👌. This is the film to watch when you’re ill; it’s both incredibly predictable and intensely likeable.

  • (500) Days of Summer

Artsy indie film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an architect (of course) mildly obsessed with Summer (the ultimate quirky Zooey Deschanel). Mainly great because of the soundtrack – Regina Spektor ftw. Also a young Chloe Grace Moretz is goals as she tells Gordon-Levitt how dumb he’s being throughout. Not a classic romcom, but has that same comforting feel of predictability nonetheless.

Did we miss your favourite? Let us know!

“What’s done, is done”

Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 2

William Shakespeare

‘One Day’ (David Nicholls) and ‘Atonement’ (Ian McEwan) have been two of the most famous book-to-screen adaptations in recent years, as well as some of the most controversial; whether Anne Hathaway’s English accent in the former was pitiful or perfect, and if the infamous library scene between Keira Knightley and James McAvoy was carnal or cold…

Having just read both these books before watching the films, I was actually pretty pleased with the two adaptations. Let’s start with One Day’. lifeUnfortunately, such is the fame of both of these novels that I’d already heard of the big plot twists at the end of each, which obviously kind of ruined the surprise, but oh well, never mind. Despite knowing the premise and ending of ‘One Day’, that didn’t change the fact that it was a great read; not particularly gripping, but both easy and interesting. The characters are really the most important part of the story: Emma Morley, the chippy, intelligent Yorkshire girl and Dexter Mayhew, the rich, partying playboy.

It’s pretty clear from the start these two are meant to be together, so the question isn’t what, it’s when? They have countless opportunities, but somehow each one goes awry, meaning that (for me, at least) it becomes pretty frustrating towards the end – just hurry up, already! lifeA key problem I had was with Dex; he simply didn’t deserve Em at all. It’s true that, the majority of the time, she brought out his best qualities, but all the same he was basically an annoying, selfish, egotistical bore. How Emma stuck him for that long, I don’t know. However, admittedly, he does redeem himself slightly at the end of the novel, but it takes him a while. Not that Emma isn’t irritating, what with her pride and over-zealous principle. Nevertheless, I feel that whereas these flaws make Emma more believable, her continuing love for Dexter seems unrealistic, considering his behaviour.

Actually, in this case, Jim Sturgiss, who plays Dexter, did make me like the character a little more (although only a little!), and I honestly don’t think Anne Hathaway did that bad a job of the accent, despite it being more RP than Northern most of the time. The film missed out quite of events, naturally, but it wasn’t really the worse for that, though I did feel the earlier years went by rather too quickly – but that maybe just because I enjoy those scenes more than the later ones.

The premise – that of looking at two people every year on the same day over twenty or so years – really reminded me of ‘Merrily We Roll Along’, a Stephen Sondheim musical I recently saw at the Harold Pinter Theatre, which starts mid-1970s and travels back through the years to the mid-1950s, looking at the same three friends, tracing their journey from disillusioned, depressed forty-somethings to dreaming, inspired twenty year olds. Both tales have kind of a glum outlook on life, although both end seemingly positively. As John O’Connell wrote of ‘One Day’ in The Times:

“In spite of its comic gloss, One Day is really about loneliness and the casual savagery of fate; the tragic gap between youthful aspiration and the compromises that we end up tolerating.”

This could apply just as well to ‘Merrily We Roll Along’; both show this ‘tragic gap’ – a growing disillusionment and confusion, a loss of clarity and belief, and bewilderment: “How did you get to be here?”

A message which is pretty dismal if you’re only eighteen and have your whole life ahead of you – I’m now fully aware that, basically, it goes downhill from here 😉

And regret seems to be the theme of the day, since I would say it’s also a key, if not the key, feature of Atonementlife Briony Tallis, the protagonist (or one of them at least!) spends her life regretting her thirteen-year-old self’s actions and the irrevocable consequences that they cause. However, the book also examines the issue of reliability; Part Three reveals the true narrator behind the story and how they have manipulated events for dramatic effect. Just like ‘The Turn of the Screw’ (Henry James), this means the truth of the whole story is questionable. Personally, I think the film presented this far better than the book did. The final part of the novel is overly drawn-out, whereas the film is concise and to-the-point, although I did miss seeing some of the characters after aging.

The casting is perfection in the adaptation, with Knightley, McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan (who plays the thirteen year old Briony) putting in stellar performances. But the best bit of all is the beach scene at Dunkirk. life I mean, the part of the book focusing on the WWI retreat was brilliantly evocative, but the film part was incredible – an almost continuous tracking shot demonstrating the wastefulness of war, an exploration of all the different groups of weary, worn down soldiers; those desperately singing hymns reminiscent of home, those drinking their sorrows away, those regressing to a childlike state on the carousel… I almost cried, as the beautiful soundtrack swirled and combined with the poignant hymn of the soldiers. Definitely my absolute favourite bit of either the book or the film.

Overall, both books and both their on-screen adaptations were good, I think, but ‘Atonement’ definitely wins this battle on both counts. It’s a novel with a lot more depth and much more believable characters; even though Briony is extraordinarily slow at some points. I guess you can forgive her more because of her youth and her efforts to compensate for her faults later on in life, whereas Dexter hardly ever seems to learn from his mistakes.