Once more unto the Beeb, dear friends...

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The Independent Online

The BBC has signed up the Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes and his production company to re-make all 37 of its own classic productions of Shakespeare's plays in a project expected to take 12 years.

Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Ian McKellen, Jude Law, James McAvoy and Kate Winslet, who is married to Mendes, are all tipped to feature in the new versions.

The project was suggested by Mendes, who will direct several of the remakes himself, and it is expected to cost up to £100m. The BBC is talking to US broadcasting giant HBO about a co-financing deal.

"The moment I took the idea to the BBC they grasped it with both hands," Mr Mendes told The Sunday Telegraph. "Just think of the fantastic array of actors and directors and of course the plays, those incredible plays. And then think of them committed to film as a single entity."

Derek Jacobi, Bob Hoskins and Anthony Hopkins were among the stars in the original BBC adaptations, made in the 1970s and early 1980s. Timothy West, who played Cardinal Wolsey in the 1979 adaptation of Henry VIII, said the new versions should stick to the Bard's text and only use actors with classical experience.

But Sir Jonathan Miller, who produced three of the original BBC plays, said: "I am not certain it was that interesting an enterprise when it happened the first time round. The BBC were enslaved to their American sponsors and we were unable to do anything adventurous with the plays. What worries me is that the BBC can't see beyond the big names like Shakespeare and Austen... [so] there is a vast body of English drama which is being ignored."

A BBC spokeswoman said: "We are at an early stage... but we are planning to do the complete works of Shakespeare with Sam Mendes and his Neal Street production company."

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