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Features | Shakespearean Adaptations

The 23rd of April this year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, so today I want to share with you all a few of my favourite Shakespearean adaptations. The stories Shakespeare wrote transcend the period in which they were written by saying something about human nature that will always be true, and that's why there are so many retellings and why the stories can be re-told in so many different ways. So if you think Shakespeare isn't for you, then maybe you just haven't found the right kind of retelling yet, and maybe I can help with that.

The Classic

Much Ado About Nothing (1993) dir. Kenneth Branagh

This version of one of Shakespeare's best-loved comedic love stories (absolutely one for you if you're into the enemies-to-lovers trope) sticks pretty closely to the original play script and has lots of excellent costumes for those of us who love a good period film, but it also brings a liveliness to the source material that makes you forget that what you're hearing isn't the English we speak now and lets the story shine through the sometimes difficult language. I actually watched this version of Much Ado About Nothing when I was studying the script at university and I can't tell you how much it helped me to understand what I was reading. Also, please watch this hilarious trailer for the film here. What we put up with in the 90s...

The High School Retelling

10 Things I Hate About You (1999) dir. Gil Junger 

Another 90s classic, although only just. I'm sure you've all already watched 10 Things I Hate About You but if you haven't then please allow me to convince you! This high school reimagining of The Taming of the Shrew is one of my personal all-time favourite movies. Julia Stiles's badass Kat and Heath Ledger's mysterious Patrick make the perfect high school pairing and if you're more into contemporary YA than historical romance then this could be the perfect Shakespeare adaptation for you. Another notable mention for this category is She's The Man - a 2006 retelling of Twelfth Night that is not quite as good as 10 Things I Hate About You (to be fair, few films are) but still a lot of fun.

The Webseries

Nothing Much To Do and Lovely Little Losers (2014-2015)

Nothing Much To Do is, as you may have guessed, another retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, this time told via vlogs from the bedrooms of the main characters, who are now teenagers at a school called Messina High in New Zealand. For a bonus the people who made Nothing Much To Do also made a sequel, Lovely Little Losers, which is a slightly loser interpretation of Love's Labour's Lost, featuring some of the characters from Nothing Much To Do plus a few new faces. Both webseries are excellent and the format probably makes them about as modern a retelling as you can get! You can watch Nothing Much To Do here and Lovely Little Losers here.

The Modern Twist

Romeo + Juliet (1996) dir. Baz Luhrmann

The nineties was a good time for Shakespearean adaptations. Baz Luhrmann's approach to Romeo + Juliet is quite interesting and personally, I would love to see more of this kind of thing. Luhrmann transports the action to modern-day Miami but keeps a lot of the dialogue of the original play, meaning that although the Capulets and the Montagues fight with guns and drive convertibles, the speech actually sticks incredibly closely to the original script, providing an excellent juxtaposition of old and new, and meaning that this is totally 100% a viable version to watch if you're studying Romeo and Juliet at school. Tell your teacher I said so.

The Zombie Story

Warm Bodies (2013) dir. Jonathan Levine

Warm Bodies is actually based on a book of the same name by Isaac Marion (which is also excellent) but as the rest of these are films/webseries I thought I'd stick to the trend and recommend the movie version. Warm Bodies is another retelling of Romeo and Juliet, except this time there are zombies. The main character R is a zombie who can't remember anything of his pre-zombie life and the story follows his steadily growing friendship with Julie, a human, and the ripples their friendship causes among both humans and zombies. So, you can see where they're going with that. Although Warm Bodies is a lot of fun, it does stray pretty far from the original source material so I'm afraid this definitely is not one to watch if you're studying the script. Sorry to break it to you, but there are no zombies in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Which, let's be honest, is why Warm Bodies is so good.

I'd love to hear your recommendations for Shakespearean adaptations in the comments!

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