Reading guide

A guide to Shakespeare: From page, to stage, to screen...

37 known theatrical works equals an awful lot of inspiration for subsequent storytellers. As the Bard’s 400th birthday approaches, we take a look at some of the best adaptations of his work in film

10 Things I Hate About You, directed by Jil Runger (1999)

Provided you can get past the inherent sadness of seeing Heath Ledger young and happy and alive, then this insouciant rom-com is a delight. It’s a re-imagining of The Taming of the Shrew, in which the Stratford sisters, Katerina (or ‘Kat’) and Bianca attend Padua High, get involved with a couple of suitors, namely one Patrick Verona, and read Sonnet 141 in class. Great soundtrack too.

Watch this if you like… American romcoms, 90s, unexpected romance

Read the original:

Look forward to Anne Tyler's adaptation:



The Tempest, directed by Derek Jarman (1979)

A wonderfully high camp, punk take on Shakespeare’s last play, Jarman’s adaptation stars the poet Heathcote Williams as Prospero and a young Toyah Wilcox as Miranda. The music is extraordinary, perfectly encapsulating Caliban’s famous, ‘Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises / Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not’ and the film is a visual feast.

Watch this if you like… epics, beautiful cinematography

Read the original:

Look forward to Anne Tyler's adaptation:



Ran, directed by Akira Kurosawa (1985)

Ran, which means ‘chaos’ or ‘rebellion’ in Chinese and Japanese, is Kurosawa’s epic, loosely based on King Lear. Rather than a drizzling Britain, the film is set in the world of Japanese warlords, with Hidetora Ichimonji choosing to abdicate in favour of his three sons, Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. Keep an eye out for reappearing stormclouds throughout the film, eventually culminating in a vast storm, ‘Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! / You cataracts and hurricanoes…’

Watch this if you like… epics, beautiful cinematography

Read the original:



Macbeth, play directed Trevor Nunn; TV version directed by Philip Casson (1978)

Technically not an adaptation, but a filmed RSC stage production, this superb version of Macbeth gives everyone the chance to revel in the brilliance of two of the greatest living verse speakers – Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Sir Ian (McKellan) and Dame Judi Dench. Hurrah! Performed in the round, with very little by way of set design or costume, Trevor Nunn leans heavily on the sheer brilliance of his cast and the magic of the text itself.

Watch this if you like... witches, hearing Shakespeare’s words spoken in a way that transports you to another time, place or existence (you can watch the full play here)

Read the original:

Read John Crace and John Sutherland's take on The Scottish Play:


Coriolanus, directed by Ralph Fiennes (2011)

Set in a modern Italian state, Ralph Fiennes’ dynamic take on the tragedy presents Coriolanus as a modern political thriller. In light of recent moments in our history – the Arab Spring and the North London riots to name but two – this adaptation is not only a Shakespeare play imagined for the screen, but succeeds in holding a mirror up to the modern world, asking questions of both governments and those they rule.

Watch this if you like… well-choreographed fight scenes, the newsreader Jon Snow

Read the original:



Romeo + Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrmann (1996)

Baz Luhrmann’s teen tragedy takes the brawling Montagues and Capulets and transfers them neatly to Mafia-tinged Venice Beach. The verse remains, even if the text has been abridged, and swords become guns, albeit with brand names such as ‘Rapier’ and ‘Dagger’. To many, this film served as an introduction to the power of Shakespeare, something that simply couldn’t be created by reading the text, round robin style, in an overheated classroom on a Wednesday. Look out for John Leguizamo as a wicked Tybalt, plus Miriam Margolyes and the late Pete Postlethwaite in star turns.

Watch this if you like… Radiohead, 90s Leonardo DiCaprio, My So Called Life

Read the original:

Check out the Incomplete Shakespeare slant on this tragedy: 



Chimes at Midnight, directed by Orson Welles (1966)

Again, while technically not an adaptation of any play, Orson Welles’ ode to Falstaff is a marvellous mash-up of the plays in which the corpulent knight does feature. It wasn’t loved at the time, but has since been recognised as one of Welles’ greatest achievements, and is a great opportunity to see Welles and Sir John Gielgud being thoroughly excellent.

Watch this if you like… great cinema.

Read some of the plays featuring Falstaff:

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