Monday, September 9, 2013

A History of Shakespeare on Screen

A History of Shakespeare on Screen – A Century of Film and Television, by Kenneth S. Rothwell, 2004.  Read in December 2010.

                      One of the things I like best about this book is the chronological list and the chart listed by play of all the Shakespeare movies made so far. It has helped build my DVD collection tremendously.
                      But there is a lot of interest in the book itself of course. Starting with the silent movies and through to modern times there has been a lot of Shakespeare movies made. Some of the early ones may seem laughable to us now but when Olivier got involved things picked up. Readers of this blog know I don’t madly adore Olivier but his contributions to Shakespeare on film cannot be overestimated. There is, unsurprisingly, a whole chapter about his direction feats: most notably Henry V, Hamlet, Richard III. Orson Welles is also given a chapter as are the early TV productions. Zeffirelli has to share a chapter with Castellani (whose productions I haven’t seen). The weakest aspect of this book is that Branagh isn’t given his own chapter and though he is given positive mention throughout, Rothwell is generally ambivalent, at times even negative, in his appreciation of Branagh’s unique genius. He indicates that cultural materialists (of which I count myself one) hate Branagh’s politics.  What???
                      Generally Rothwell and I have quite different takes on the various portrayals of Shakespeare’s characters but that’s OK. He seems to love Shakespeare movies as much as I do and his final sentences could hardly be truer: “…Shakespeare remains incarnate in the trinity of page, stage and screen, each offering its own unique insights into his mind and art from the muses of literature, theater, and mass entertainment. Thrice armed, he is unlikely to go away.”

                      This is a book to have at hand for frequent reference.

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