Since "King John" became the first Shakespearean film adaptation in 1899, there have been many directors eager to take a crack at interpreting the Bard's words for a new generation. While some films were made by Shakespearean fundamentalists (see Kenneth Branagh's fine body of work), many adaptations found a happy medium between what had been written in the late 1500s and how those words would be read by more modern civilizations. A few even managed to keep his original language while the rest found only their foundation in his timeless tales. To get you adequately prepared for the latest folly into Shakespearean comedy -- this Friday's hotly-anticipated release of Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing" -- here are five of the best modern adaptations of Shakespeare's work.
"10 Things I Hate About You"
If you ask a Shakespearean scholar or a film geek about "10 Things I Hate About You," they would certainly identify it as a modernization of Shakespeare's timeless comedy, "The Taming of the Shrew." Many commoners, however, might be left in the dark, despite Shakespeare's writing credit. But it may be because they prefer it that way. There are plenty of less-than-subtle nods to the story's origins. Shakespeare's Katherina becomes Julia Stiles' Kat. Petruchio becomes Patrick. The Bard's Bianca remains. The beauty in this teen-friendly (*shudder*) update, though, is in the subtleties of the adaptation. Rather than thrust Shakespeare's archaic language on the ill-prepared ears of its high school audience, the dialogue has been rewritten. The settings have changed. Viewers can choose whether they want to look for references to "The Shrew" — such as when Cameron quotes Act 1, Scene 1 for his friend Michael — or ignore it and succumb to the whimsy of the story, the characters, and the charming cast. Either way you choose to see it, "10 Things I Hate About You" is worthy of its heritage.
After studying under directors like Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, and Anthony Minghella as an actor, Ralph Fiennes didn't make it easy on himself when he stepped behind the camera in 2011 for his feature directorial debut, "Coriolanus." Adapting a Shakespearean tragedy isn't exactly an easy assignment to begin with, but updating one to modern times in a fictional setting seems like a rather bold choice for someone never before in charge of a production. He even gave himself an extra challenge I can only presume was for fun: get a respectable performance out of the usually stolid Gerard Butler. Somehow -- miraculously regarding Butler -- he pulled it off. "Coriolanus" proves itself a smashing success thanks to not just Fiennes' courageous directorial choices, but also his commanding performance as the titular Roman general banished from his corrupt kingdom. Striking an effective but not overbearing chord regarding class warfare of the metaphorical and literal kind, "Coriolanus" nicely parallels contemporary society without altering many -- if any -- of Shakespeare's words. As an actor, Fiennes is best known as He Who Must Not Be Named. As a director, expect him to be called on eagerly.