April 26, 1564, is the date William Shakespeare was baptized — his date of birth is unknown, but often celebrated as the 23rd. So in his honor, let’s look at the films that have done the most to bring the Bard’s word to the masses today. Like Laurence Olivier a generation before, Kenneth Branagh trained on the Shakespearean stage and then directed and acted in a plethora of Shakespearean works on the big screen. Over the years, Branagh has worked with many of the same actors and production team, from costume designer to soundtrack composer, giving his films a distinct look and feel. He’s finally starring as old Shakespeare himself in All Is True, which premiered late in 2018 in the U.K., and will have a wider release this year in the U.S.
Tell us why you picked your fave!
Othello is technically the odd one out here, as it was directed by Oliver Parker — but Parker cut a ton of Othello’s lines to make the film All About Iago, so it definitely counts as a Ken Branagh Shakespeare film.
Yeah, I wasn’t being super picky — just wanted to include it ;)
I unironically love Love’s Labour’s Lost — it has its problems, but I love the play itself, largely on the basis that the women constantly outfox the silly men. And Adrian Lester as Dumain is gorgeous.
It’s an underrated play & movie, but so enjoyable. I should dig up a copy & do a proper review.
Yep–apparently Branagh realized how strong Lester’s dance chops were, so he told him just to do whatever he felt like on his dance solo. I don’t care for the “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” routine, but the final “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and the Casablanca homage ending have me in tears every time.
Adrian Lester IS absolutely lovely. I second this!
It’s my favourite Shakespeare play and I’ve yet to see a bad theatre production of it but I could not get along with this film. (Although I agree Adrian Lester is always gorgeous)
I’ve always liked the fact that although most of this play is the fluffiest fluff in the fluff bag, it actually ends in a very sensible way with all the women turning down the proposals because they’re not convinced the men have thought it all through (and the poor princess has just been told her father’s died!) and basically tell them no, go away and have a think and, if they still feel the same in a year, then they’ll see what happens then. None of this, ‘we’ve just met but I think you’re wonderful’ or ‘of course I’m happy to be married to you even though it was my sister you fell in love with…’ or, conversely, ‘I’m still happy to be married to you even though you’re not the person I thought I was marrying but you look exactly like them…’
Much Ado because of its sheer joyousness and the sexy surprise of Denzel Washington in the ball scene
I will always argue that Keanu Reeves was the right person for the part of the prince’s brother – his acting may have been wooden, but who else could have fit those leather pants?
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more
Men were deceivers ever
One foot in sea, and one on shore
To one thing constant never
Then sigh not so
But let them go
And be you blithe and bonny
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into ‘Hey nonny, nonny’
<3 <3 <3
Happy sigh. I love Much Ado and love Ken and Emma in this joy-filled, sun-kissed version. The only bit I don’t adore is Michael Keaton, I like how Nathan Fillion played Dogberry better.
When this movie came out, my friends and I were all working at the SoCal Renaissance Faire and we were so delighted to see Shakespeare on screen! A group of us went to see it together (not in costume – good decision, or missed opportunity?).
“Joy-filled” and “sun-kissed” are such good words to describe the film, but they’re also how I would describe that time in my life. Spring and summer weekends spent romping around in the sun, having so much fun, hardly a care in the world. I’m sure I adore this movie so much just because of how I associate it with those years. :)
I love this!!
I believe Henry V is the only one that contains Brian Blessed. Therefore, my choice is obvious.
Blessed is one of Branagh’s go-to cast regulars — he’s in Much Ado (Antonio), Hamlet (Dad’s Ghost), and As You Like It (both Dukes!) as well.
I saw Henry V the month I started grad school–studying Shakespeare–and it had me from the opening notes of the soundtrack. It was the first Shakespeare film for cinematic release since Polanski’s Macbeth, and it kick-started a return of Shakespeare for mainstream audiences. So many great performances!
Henry V was such a fantastic return to the Bard on screen!
Two words: Derek Jacobi
So difficult… Much Ado About Nothing or Henry V?
I had the same conundrum, and ultimately came down on the side of Much Ado only because it always puts a smile on my face, while the other play is more of an intellectual appreciation.
Ok, maybe I’m a shallow romantic…
Much Ado because Emma Thompson and ALL THE WHITE DRESSES!! Also, Michael Keaton.
It was a hard choice, I love Much Ado but in the end I had to plump for Henry V
I was mesmerized by Hanlet, along with everybody else in the theatre with me. I enjoyed Love’s Labor Lost once I adjusted to the soundtrack. And Much Ado is pure joy, the first Shakespeare production I saw presented as pure fun with no reverence at all. But in the end I had to pick Henry V which I watched over and over again on tape. Derek Jacobi is wonderful as Chorus and and the battle and the Non Nobis killed me.
Much Ado, for sure. Branagh isn’t trying to be all dramatic and serious like he is in Hamlet, which can get irritating, and the dialogue in this one suits his at-times-overwrought style. I totally wanted a white dress to wear to the Ren Faire (except it would’ve gotten all dusty and dingy), and I still get the songs stuck in my head on a regular basis. It’s one of my favorite movies ever. I had a harpist play “Sigh No More, Ladies” as part of my wedding processional!
Truly, this was a hard one. Ultimately, I voted for “Much Ado About Nothing” because it is such a joyful movie that it warrants viewing again and again. All the right boxes were checked in this film. Plus, practically every man in the movie–including Kenneth Branagh himself–looks absolutely gorgeous in this movie. “Othello” is my favorite play, and I LOVE this version starring Laurence Fishburne. I just don’t have the appetite to watch tragedies as much as I used to, so I don’t watch it nearly as much as I watch “Much Ado…” As with with “Much Ado…,” practically every man in the movie looks absolutely gorgeous in this movie!