MCM: William Shakespeare

37

I’m a little surprised that William Shakespeare hasn’t been a big subject for biopics. Sure, his works have been filmed endlessly since the dawn of movies and TV, in countless adaptions and variations. Maybe folks felt that his prose spoke for itself onscreen? There are plenty of books about the Bard’s life, and in recent years, lots of documentaries on TV dissecting his motives, meanings, and life story. It’s just that he doesn’t seem to show up as his own character very often, or at least not much until the past couple decades. Well, let’s compare these few Wills anyway.

 

 

John Williams in The Twilight Zone, “The Bard” (1963)

John Williams in The Twilight Zone, "The Bard" (1963)

A TV screenwriter calls up Shakespeare’s ghost to help him achieve fame. IDK why, but that’s Burt Reynolds with the Bard.

 

 

Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Second part of the year when Joseph Fiennes played all the 16th-c. hotties on film (the first being as Robert Dudley in Elizabeth). I do love this scene where he’s writing & throwing away drafts.

 

 

Colin Firth in Blackadder: Back & Forth (1999)

Colin Firth in Blackadder: Back & Forth (1999)

In this millennium special, the modern Lord Blackadder uses a time machine to visit the past & bops Shakespeare on the head “for every schoolboy and schoolgirl for the next 400 years.”

 

 

Rupert Graves in A Waste of Shame: The Mystery of Shakespeare and His Sonnets (2005)

Rupert Graves in A Waste of Shame: The Mystery of Shakespeare and His Sonnets (2005)

I really need to dig this one up because the cast is excellent & the costumes look decent.

 

 

Dean Lennox Kelly in Doctor Who, “The Shakespeare Code” (2007)

Dean Lennox Kelly in Doctor Who, "The Shakespeare Code" (2007)

Shakespeare’s lost play Love’s Labour’s Won is the key for a trio of witch-like aliens to potentially take over the world. Of course, the Doctor & his companion, Martha, figure this out & stop it. Will himself is kind of a modern-looking dude with the open shirt & what looks like a suede jacket.

 

 

Will Kemp in Miguel y William (2007)

Will Kemp in Miguel y William (2007)

A Spanish rom-com where William Shakespeare & Miguel de Cervantes are friends who fall in love with the same woman.

 

 

Rafe Spall in Anonymous (2011)

Rafe Spall in Anonymous (2011)

A minor character in this Oxfordian fantasy. It’s all such nonsense, with nice costumes, though the open-shirt trend continues.

 

 

Mathew Baynton in Bill (2015)

2015 Bill

A cute flick with decent costumes, all from the Horrible Histories crew.

 

 

Laurie Davidson in Will (2017)

Will (2017- ) TNT

Dumb as a brick & wholly unnecessary ‘rock & roll update’ of Shakespeare’s life.

 

 

David Mitchell in Upstart Crow (2016-)

2016 Upstart Crow

Another British comedy, this one’s had a three series, plus a lockdown Christmas special. Great costumes & really going for the Shakespeare portrait look.

 

 

Kenneth Branagh in All Is True (2019)

Beautifully costumed & filmed look at Shakespeare’s family life with a cast of heavy-hitters including Judy Dench & Ian McKellen.

 

 

Reece Shearsmith in Good Omens (2019)

Reece Shearsmith in Good Omens (2019)

A cameo when the angel & demon pop through the 16th century!

 

 

Who’s your favorite on-screen version of the Bard?

37 Responses

  1. Kris McD

    I would watch the hell out of Miguel y William! Alas, it doesn’t seem to be streaming anywhere stateside. And Geraldine Chaplin is in it! I know Will Kemp is a romcom staple, but a bit of Bardic trivia: Will Kemp was one of the principal comedians in the real Shakespeare’s theatre troupe. He was famous for one of the first recorded publicity stunts/kickstarter campaigns — a 9-day morris-dance-a-thon from London to Norwich, which he did to raise funds for himself.

    Reply
  2. susan l eiffert

    That looks suspiciously like denim that Will Kemp is sporting. 2. An awful lot of leather in many of these costumes…

    Reply
  3. Gudrun

    Almost don’t dare asking, however WHAT ABOUT THAT TIME TIM FREAKING CURRY WAS SHAKESPEARE???

    Also: Hahahaha, dumb as bricks. I love an unminced word. I also actually think them a fundamentally clever invention. Bricks. Not Will-series.

    Reply
    • Janet

      Was scrolling down through this Shakespeare line-up as well…looking for 😍Tim Curry, as the Bard, in the 1978 tv series ‘Will Shakespeare’ 😍.

      Reply
  4. Gray

    A wonderfully interesting post. I must check out some of these. I’ve hardly seen any of them.

    I see my pet peeve… the “unbraced doublet syndrome”… is rampant.

    I thought there was hardly any info on William’s early life. Just parents and christening records and a little stuff like that. But maybe they’ve unearthed much more than when we were studying him in school.
    There was a play about his early life… I think mostly made up… we designed as a project in school (back in the late 70s) called “A Cry of Players”, if I’m remembering thing correctly.

    Reply
    • Gray

      P. S. I like Rupert Graves costume. It looks like he has a grey doublet with black jerkin. And it’s hard to see but looks like black pumpkin hose with cannions. (the cannions look a little loose… it’s hard to tell) I love the black ruff, but was that a thing Anyway, it looks good.

      Reply
    • Fran in NYC

      Yes, the first production of a Cry of Players had Frank Langella as Will and Anne Bancroft as Anne Hathaway. I remember seeing theater stills of this. Langella at his most handsome! I don’t remember where this production was mounted; Broadway or Lincoln Center?

      Reply
  5. Vittoria di Carduci

    You got Upstart Crow!!! I am in love with that series! David Mitchell is sweet, idiotic, cynical and brilliant all in turn and it’s fabulous. Pulls no punches either. Please consider watching it!

    Reply
      • Kelly

        LOL! That sounds like something that a tartingslap would say!

        Kat, I agree about the paper-wasting trope. Years ago I worked at the Folger Shakespeare Library, photographing some of their First Folios–and some copies had corrected proofread pages bound in among the rest. They didn’t throw anything away!
        Jenni Tiramani complained about the “doublet as jeans jacket” look that so many of these films go for–not coincidentally, the ones where Shakespeare is a young hottie. Branagh, Graves (his Shakespeare is dying of syphilis) and Mitchell look totally period-appropriate to me (except for Graves’ boots-wearing when he’s not going anywhere).

        Thanks for the post–now I’m questing for that Twilight Zone!

        Reply
      • Karen K.

        I love it when Shakespeare calls his teenaged daughter a little bitchington. The writing in this series is just SO GOOD.

        Reply
  6. Kat

    I will always remember the epic rant one of my English professors had about the ‘practicing signatures’ scene in Shakespeare in Love – how paper wasn’t cheap and there was no way in hell Shakespeare would be wasting whole sheets with a single signature doodle, only to ball it up and throw it away. (Old trope, sign of the creative process yes, but not during a time when given the cost, Shakespeare was milking every square inch of parchment he had for all it was worth)

    Reply
    • Kris McD

      Ben Jonson actually wrote a poem (“Inviting a Friend to Dinner”) joking that if his friends didn’t want to listen to him read his own poetry during the meal, they’d ingest it anyway because the paper he wrote on would have been re-used to line baking tins, and the ink letters would have transferred to the greasy pie crusts. (Another Shakespeare prof here)

      Reply
      • Karen K.

        There’s an excellent podcast from the Folger Shakespeare Library and in one episode they were discussing the many plays from the Elizabethan era that were lost (about 3000, estimated 5/6 of all plays produced). I was horrified by a story of of one playwright’s works that are lost forever because an illiterate cook used the pages to wrap up pies.

        Reply
    • Aleko

      That’s bizarre: your English professor had wholly failed to understand the movie, in spite of the fact that in order to get to Will’s pen the camera had panned right across a coffee mug , carefully placed so you can read on it “A Prefent from Stratford Upon Avon”! How does somebody who can’t recognise a literary send-up when its perpetrators are doing everything short of jumping up and down in front of the camera with placards reading “This is a Send-up, Folks!!!” get a job as an English professor? Also, did he not get the joke about Shakespeare;s half-dozen surviving autographs all being spelt differently? How ignorant was that guy? Or had he just had his sense of humour surgically removed?

      Reply
      • Kris McD

        I agree! I assumed all the Shakespeare and theater-history in-jokes were there specifically FOR us Shakespeare scholars. Loved every minute of it. Tom Stoppard does the same kind of thing in his underrated Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (another unbraced-doublet fest, with both Gary Oldman and Tim Roth looking tousled and appealing).

        Reply
        • Gill

          I first saw “Shakespeare in Love” in Leamington Spa, about fifteen miles from Stratford. Howls of laughter at all the Stratford and Warwickshire references!

          Reply
        • Aleko

          I remember laughing out loud when the evil boy with the mice says he’s going to write plays with plenty of bloody deaths, and when Will asks his name replies “John Webster” – and realising that I was apparently the only person in the cinema who knew why that was funny.

          Reply
  7. mmcquown

    Crow, followed by Dr Who. I think the comedic treatment might please the Bard himself more than the more reverential ones. Also, they kept their shirts buttoned up. On the other hand,points of on Crow for Marlowe’s out-of-period sword. He is wearing a smallsword, which didn’t exist yet, instead of a rapier.

    Reply
  8. MoHub

    The Twilight Zone episode is hilarious. Burt Reynolds plays a 1950’s hipster method actor modeled on James Dean.

    Reply
  9. hsc

    “IDK why, but that’s Burt Reynolds with the Bard.”

    Reynolds was playing an obnoxious “Method actor” (it was a frequent trope back then) as a parody of Marlon Brando.

    Reynolds had a strong physical resemblance to Brando at that point, which he took delight in skewering after having to hear about it every time he auditioned for a role.

    And add me to those who are shocked that the 6-episode 1978 series with Tim Curry as Shakespeare was overlooked.

    Admittedly, it was relatively obscure in the U.S.– I don’t think it ran on PBS, which is how most people saw such things– and it was probably mainly known to RHPS fans at the time.

    And to be honest, I only knew it from a teasing photo and brief review in a ’70s RHPS fan magazine– and I still haven’t tracked it down and watched it.

    It was released on VHS and DVD by A&E, as well as a later DVD release on Network in the UK.

    And doing a Google search just now, I see that fuzzy copies of either the VHS release or someone’s home taping are currently on YouTube. Watching it in this form might be an ordeal, but at least it’s out there– for now.

    Costuming looks pretty good from the quick checking I did– this series might warrant tracking down of a more framecap-friendly source for a full rundown.

    Reply
    • hsc

      I quickly checked YouTube again, and all six episodes are together in one spot.

      Quality varies from slightly fuzzy to rather fuzzy– the worst ones have a credit for “BWE Video,” whatever that was– but they appear basically watchable, even if not up to modern standards.

      And really, they don’t look any worse than some of the things that have gotten “the best we could do” framecaps here, like WILD WOMEN OF CHASTITY GULCH for Snark Week.

      This set of videos has been posted there since September 2019, so hopefully, this isn’t a no-no to provide a link:

      Reply
      • hsc

        Urgh. If you right-click on the embed video and select “open in a new tab,” you’ll get not only that first episode. but the playlist to the right.

        Reply
    • Jamie Jo LaMoreaux

      I’m STILL looking for a copy of the fan fic “the Rocky Doctor Picture show” sigh. I heard about Tim Curry’s Shakespeare because I worked for sci-fi dealers. :-)

      Reply
    • Karen K.

      I 100% thought that WAS Brando! How funny that it’s actually Burt Reynolds!

      Reply
  10. Viola

    ‘Bill’ also features a song (in the best Horrible Histories tradition) that joyfully mixes up, well, nearly all of Shakespeare’s plays with more than a dash of silliness: ‘A Series Of Funny Misunderstandings’. This clip doesn’t have the full song for some reason but you get the idea
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RZgOjf36xxI

    Reply
  11. MJ

    I seriously loved Joseph Fiennes in the role, though I was ultimately very disappointed the movie won the Oscar that year. Haven’t seen most of the others, but Branagh’s is on my list, and after seeing this post, so is that Rupert Graves portrayal.

    Reply
    • Jamie Jo LaMoreaux

      I LOVE “Something Rotten” I like the tune I HATE Shakespeare. it’s a stitch.

      Reply
  12. Lily Lotus Rose

    Joseph Fiennes is my ALL-TIME FAVORITE!!!!! I’ve written countless times here about how much I loath the TNT series Will but never did I reach the brilliance of this succinct and totally TRUE phrase: “Dumb as a brick & wholly unnecessary ‘rock & roll update’ of Shakespeare’s life.” Guess that’s why y’all are the popular bloggers and I am not. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the Brangah version; it looks depressing and I can’t see past his nose. I know I’m in the minority here, but I liked Anonymous; it was ridiculous in the best of ways. OMG–I’m totally drooling over Tim Curry as Shakespeare! Must watch horrible-quality vid on YouTube now. Thanks for this post!! A great MCM choice.

    Reply
  13. Roxana

    Historical evidence indicates Shakespeare was a workmanlike professional notably lacking in artistic temperament and well liked by colleagues if not envious rivals. Unlike Marlowe and Jonson Bill had no arrest record. He seems to have had a good business head, investing in London real estate but records of.business deals in Stratford probably indicate similar activities by Anne Shakespeare. They were quite the go getting couple.

    Reply

Feel the love

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.