Hot new writing talent hits Hollywood

Movie bosses have `discovered' Shakespeare, writes Milly Jenkins. And Tarantino is getting the credit
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The Independent Online
Billed by Hollywood as a "natural-born screenwriter", Shakespeare is making a grand cinematic comeback, with a new flood of adaptations about to hit our screens all at once.

Romeo and Juliet, drastically reworked by Australian director Baz Luhrmann, has been topping the US box office charts. Al Pacino is having a go at Richard III. British theatre directors, backed by Hollywood, have adapted A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night. Richard II follows.

Hot on the heels of Kenneth Branagh's Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing, Zefferelli's Hamlet and Oliver Parker's Othello, Hollywood has decided there's money to be made in Shakespeare - not too expensive, yet perceived as "quality", with no copyright problems.

The planning for this new crop began after Branagh's Much Ado harvested a $20m (pounds 12.2m) profit in the US on an $8m budget. But Branagh is now being usurped from his role as a one-man Shakespearean cottage industry, as everyone else jumps on the bandwagon. One of the secrets of Branagh's success has been to use big Hollywood names - Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington were the bait for Much Ado, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal provide the box office muscle for his new Hamlet.

Big stars are willing to take big pay cuts for the kudos of doing Shakespeare. It could be called vanity acting.

Adrian Noble of the Royal Shakespeare Company, whose Midsummer Night's Dream has just come out, has said it's Quentin Tarantino that we should be thanking for this rebirth: "Pre-Tarantino, the average cinema speech lasted eight to 10 words. Now it's trendy for characters to deliver lengthy monologues."

Reservoir Dogs is being described as a "Jacobean-style melodrama" and Tarantino is indeed planning to do a black and white version of Macbeth.

Unlike Branagh, who wanted his Hamlet to be a "four-hour monster" but has been forced to cut it down to a meagre 31/2 hours, it's hard to imagine Tarantino sticking to the text. One of his colleagues says he's interested in reworking Throne of Blood, a Japanese Samurai version of Macbeth.

This renaissance could go on for ever. Shakespeare could become a "film evergreen". Getting through the complete works might take some time, although re-working the same core plays is a more likely scenario. It's not seen as a problem that Al Pacino's Richard III comes out so soon after Ian McKellen's.

But after the current avalanche, audiences may tire of the Bard. In the meantime, check out our guide, above, to the pros and cons of the new Shakespeare movies.

Shakespeare in the movies


Heroes and







What the

critics say

Release date

Romeo and Juliet

Baz `Strictly Ballroom' Luhrman

Teen heart-throbs Leonardo DiCaprio (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) and Claire Danes (Little Women)

Shakespeare's Die Hard with a vengeance. Montagues & Capulets as gangstas. Car chases, shoot outs - teenage suicide - don't do it!

The streets of Mexico City and Veracruz, aka "Verona Beach"

The Bard meets MTV. Sunglasses and sports car. Romeo wears Hawaiian shirts

Romeo gets banished to a trailer park. "Romeo, Romeo" in a floodlit pool

"Turbo-glam teen weepie"

28 March


Kenneth Branagh

Ken as the Great Dane, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, with Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and ... Ken Dodd

Dysfunctional Royal Family, but faithful to text. Script reveals zany stage directions ie: "Resembles White House conference ... King would be Norman Schwarzkopf"

Castle with grand mirrored halls. External shots of Blenheim Palace

19th century waistcoated student prince

Jack Lemmon's drawl: "There is something rawten in the state of Denmark"

Likely to be too long for comfort

14 February

Looking for Richard (III)

Al Pacino's directing debut

The Godfather plays the hunchback, Winona Ryder is Lady Anne

A docu-drama - a film about the making of the film. Pacino quizzes Gielgud, Branagh and Joe Blogs for insights - "What is an iambic pentameter?"

Manhattan, London, Oxford & Stoke-on-Trent

Armour and crowns, but also baseball hats

Impromptu soliloquies in Central Park, the wooing of Lady Anne

"Wonderful example of physicality brought by American actors" or "stodgy"

30 January

Twelfth Night

Trevor Nunn

Imogen Stubbs (Viola), Helena Bonham-Carter (Olivia) & Toby Stephens (Count Orsino), Nigel Hawthorne and Mel Smith

Not much different from the original gender-bender, but cut down to a more "palatable" size. Done more like a dark romance than a rip-roaring comedy

A 19th-century Illyria - "a heritage theme park run riot"

A mishmash of Pre-Raphaelite and mid-Victorian. Impressive moustaches

Nunn allows us to see the shipwreck

"Assured, masterly", or "Suffers from a sort of `Masterpiece Theatre' mustiness"

Out now

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Adrian Noble, the RSC's artistic director

Lindsay Duncan as Titania, Alex Jennings as Oberon

A schoolboy's dream, as in Noble's highly acclaimed stage production. Lots of Freudian symbolism - described as "highly sexual"

A fairyland forest. Bottom and his troupe of actors rehearse in a Scout Hut

Theatrical fantasy. Fuchsia, orange and purple fairies

Swanky special effects

"Resolutely RSC"

Out now