What’s Your Favorite Shakespeare Film or TV Adaption?


April 26, 1564, is recorded as William Shakespeare’s baptism, and either that or the 23rd are celebrated as his birthday. So in the Bard’s honor, let’s find pick our favorite Shakespearean historical films! Movie and TV versions of Shakespeare have long been beloved frock flicks, and while this isn’t a comprehensive list, we tried to get the biggies that are in a historical setting and that aren’t simply recordings of a theater production.


If there are other film or TV adaptions you prefer above these best-known Shakespearean flicks, comment away!



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Three historical costumers who decided the world needed a podcast and blog dedicated to historical costume movies and everything right and wrong with them.

44 Responses

  1. bshaurette

    Too hard to choose! (Also, not that it would be my #1 choice, but does Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ belong on this list?)

  2. LadySlippers

    NOT the most recent Romeo & Juliet — that’s for sure! The whole production was just off (though I found the end intriguing).

    I prefer the stage and my favourite is The Minnesota Children’s Theatre production of A Midsummer Nights Dream put on years ago. Even our local Shakespeare company hasn’t come close to the magic I saw in that production. 😍

    I did like Baz’s take on Romeo & Juliet — it felt very real and not silly….

  3. LadySlippers

    I did like the first set of The Hollow Crown and haven’t seen the second set.

    Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal in Henry IV Part 1 was divine. The production, I felt, was the best of the entire set (still excluding the second set as I have yet to see it).

  4. Cecily

    Was about to say Joss Whedon’s Much Ado but realized it wasn’t period…worth watching cuz it basically a home video version but with really good actors and equipment

    • bshaurette

      Oh I forgot all about this version! Not period, of course, but I think that just made clear how timeless Shakespeare’s dialogue and stories can be.

    • Terry Towels

      I saw Anthony Zerbe in Coriolanus in the late 60’s. All these years later, I remember his Coriolanus. I’m not sure why he’s not more well known.

    • hsc

      Not to mention Welles’ and Polanski’s versions… are we not to mention “the Scottish play” here?

  5. LydiaR

    It was a tough call between Zeffirelli’s R&J, Branagh & Thompson’s Much Ado, HBC’s Twelfth Night, and Pacino’s Merchant. I had to vote for Merchant, though, because it truly is an amazing production.

    • LydiaR

      I would have voted for Howard Keel & Kathryn Grayson’s Kiss Me Kate, but it wasn’t on the list!

      • hsc

        It’s actually Cole Porter, not the bard.. and most of it is contemporary.

  6. Lynn

    I voted for Henry V, but I never saw Much Ado About Nothing with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, I’ll have to watch it now. Emma Thompson was in Henry V too.

    • bshaurette

      Oh, Branagh’s ‘Much Ado’ is so much fun! See it for Denzel Washington’s turn as Don Pedro, if nothing else. I’m not sure which I like Emma Thompson better in – she was really a delight in Henry V.

  7. Becky Nankivell

    It was hard to decide between Zeffirelli’s R&J or Branagh’s Henry V (I went with Henry V), but I haven’t seen many more than those, so I’m afraid this just shows my age and what hit me at impressionable periods.

  8. Arthur McClench

    Kozintsev’s ‘King Lear’ and his ‘Hamlet’ are marvelllous. Second Kurosawa’s ‘Throne of Blood’- the best Macbeth adaptation you will see, tho’ Polanski was original for its time.

  9. Theresa Chedoen

    My absolute favorite Hamlet, tho it’s not historic costume–in fact, it’s in rehearsal clothes!–was Richard Burton, directed by Gielgud. You can find scenes from it on Youtube. Absolutely breathtaking.
    I have always enjoyed Branagh’s “Much Ado,” just for the visuals. There is that wonderful moment when Don Pedro and his buddies are all galloping across the meadow on their beautiful horses, and you know at least one of the actors is thinking, somewhere deep down inside, “This is so cool!”

  10. LadySlippers

    The most recent Macbeth (2015) should be on the list. I totally forgot it’s coming from Netflix and should be here tomorrow.

  11. Lyn Robb

    There’s also Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead which is about what happens to the characters when they are not “on stage” Brilliant movie (Tom Stoppard script) where the play being done on stage is Hamlet.

  12. Anne-Helen Wickizer

    All the versions of all the plays!!! But I recall a 1954 version of Rome and Juliet by Castellani that the costumes were to DIE for. It’s available on Amazon to watch.

    • hsc

      Ah, yes, the one with Laurence Harvey and Susan Shentall (who never acted before or since this film).

      I saw it in a theater when I was in high school, as part of a special series of literature-to-film adaptations that included Peter Brook’s “Lord of the Flies” and the Maurice Evans/Judith Anderson “Macbeth” that was filmed for TV’s “Hallmark Hall of Fame” but also released theatrically.

      Castellani’s film was a beauty, but at that time, we were all outraged we didn’t get the then-recent Zeffirelli version (which I voted for as my fave).

    • Janet Nickerson

      Yes – James Cagney as Bottom is hilarious! I also like the 1973 ‘Ragtime’ version of Joseph Papp’s production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, too.

  13. Alys Mackyntoich

    Branagh’s Henry V, because when there’s something difficult you’ve got to do, and you don’t want to do it, but you’ve got to do it anyway, there’s nothing like Branagh’s St. Crispin’s Day speech

  14. Rachel Auty

    Zeffirellis’s R&J. I also would put in a vote for Baz Lurhman’s version. And as a tv production, I have always loved the BBC’s 1980 Twelth Night with Felicity Kendall and Sinead Cusack.

    • MoHub

      Yes! I’d definitely cast a vote for the BBC Twelfth Night. Also Hamlet, with Jacobi and Stewart.

  15. janette

    Timely. I am currently watching Branagh’s Hamlet which is much better than i expected. I was studying Shakespeare at Uni when it came out and so was probably rather put off by all the negative press at the time. True his cinematography is unexciting and the lighting not atmospheric but Branagh’s acting makes up for all that. He really lives his roles. The costumes are deliberately I think, a bit vague in terms of period. There seems to be a mish mash of styles from late 1890s to pre war but the play itself is “dislocated” and so that works.
    I really loved the Polanski Macbeth when I saw it at school. I was my introduction to Shakespeare, a baptism in blood as it were. It now looks very dated sadly. I have still to watch the most recent version. Macbeth is possibly my favourite play.
    I greatly enjoyed the first Hollow Crown series but also have not yet watched the second. There are quite a few of the old BBC Shakespears in my collection, which varied in quality but for us colonials were about the only access we had to Shakespeare so were treasured at the time. I got up at seven or some such absurd hour two Sundays in a row when I was a teenager to watch Henry IV parts one and two.

  16. Saraquill

    It’s a comic book, but I recommend checking out “Prince of Cats.” It’s Romeo and Juliet through Tybalt’s POV, but with more sword duels and a neon 1980s aesthetic.

  17. Katy Werlin

    Olivier’s Lear is super low budget and gets a bit tedious at some points and there are some rather ridiculous choices (the music is….. interesting) but GODDAMN is it worth it to see Olivier’s performance. Especially after seeing his work from his younger days, it’s incredibly poignant to see him as an old man raging.