Preview: Shakespeare On Film, RSC outdoor screen, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Snapshots of the Bard on the big screen
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The Independent Culture

On a big screen on the banks of the river Avon, near to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the RSC shows free feature films of Shakespeare's plays over three weekends in August. The film critic Mark Kermode has handpicked the six films in the Shakespeare on Film season. "Most of the Shakespeare I've seen is through cinema," says Kermode. "Film is keeping these texts alive and bringing them to a new audience, as much as stage productions [are]."

The films include the hip version of Romeo + Juliet (1996) starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. ("It is a very important film as it took Shakespeare to a younger audience.") There's also Henry V (1944) starring and directed by Laurence Olivier - a film that, says Kermode, "many people considered to be the definitive Shakespeare on film because it stayed so true to the original text". The classic science-fiction film Forbidden Planet (1956) - loosely based on The Tempest - "is one of the most interesting examples of what can happen to Shakespeare on film".

The Merchant of Venice (2004) has a stellar cast that includes Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. "It is such a problematic text because it deals with anti-Semitism and directors have shied away from it," Kermode says. A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) stars James Cagney and Mickey Rooney; while Roman Polanski's Macbeth (1971) takes Shakespeare on film into "a whole new realm of horror".

This is "only a snapshot" of the Bard on film, says Kermode. "But what we have is a very quirky cross-section that demonstrates the various ways Shakespeare is done on film." His initial short list was about 50 films. "I had to cross off Derek Jarman's The Tempest, Abel Ferrara's China Girl - a modern-day Romeo and Juliet - and both of Akira Kurosawa's re-workings of plays transposing the action to Japan."

Kermode will lead a debate on the subject of Shakespeare and film at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre café on 6 August. "My favourite is a cult film, The Ninth Configuration, a psychological thriller on the theme of madness in Hamlet."

5-20 August (0870 609 1110; www.rsc.org.uk)

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