Thursday, 21 April 2011

Cinematic Shakespeare, Part One: The Gents

I’ve have an unbridled intellectual love affair with Shakespeare since I was ten. Even saying it I can tell how strange it sounds, but it began with the condensed Lamb’s “Tales From Shakespeare” and then into the actual plays by the time I hit the teens. It’s probably his prolific nature which appeals to me most, though I suppose his brilliance plays a part. How am I celebrating his birthday this weekend? By a three-part post celebrating his performances inspsired by his brilliance.
Laurence Fishburne as Othello (Othello)
As an aside: I wish that Laurence Fishburne could get a another role worthy of his goodness. He earned his lone Oscar nomination for What’s Love Got to Do With It, but I’m even fonder of his Othello. I often think of the play as Shakespeare’s flawed masterpiece – that pivotal third act is so difficult to establish and it’s so imperative to Othello’s transformation. Fishburne, though, pulls it off. He out performs Shakespearean stalwart Branagh, although in Branagh’s defence Iago is an impossibly difficult character to play....
Kenneth Branagh as Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing)
....and then, Branagh has such a hidden talent for the comedic. I’m not even that fond of the actual play Much Ado About Nothing, but a competent play (one of the Bard’s lesser works – for me) turns into a fine film and Branagh’s Benedick is a significant part of that. He has just the right of amount of self-confidence to be willing to perform the most ridiculous of characterisations making it all work excellently.
Richard Burton as Petruchio (The Taming of the Shrew)
I can’t speak for others, but I always remember Burton as an actor notorious for having fun in his roles. It always shows, for me, even when he’s tackling more serious fare like Becket or The Robe that tinge of irreverence is always noticeable and in The Taming of the Shrew it’s put to brilliant use. Depending on which perspective you take this is already one of Shakespeare’s most satirical pieces and Burton is a perfect
Laurence Olivier as Hamlet (Hamlet)
I wrote ad nauseum on three film versions of Hamlet and I grudgingly gave Olivier top honours. Well, perhaps not grudgingly. He’s not really right for the part and yet he’s excellent in it. His Hamlet finds the sensuality in a character that seems almost facile in his constant indecision. It’s not really Shakespeare’s Hamlet, much too wise and with too much savoir faire, but it’s so difficult to bet against Olivier.
Leonard Whiting as Romeo (Romeo & Juliet)
I shall always placate myself with the fact that Whiting (along with Hussey) picked up the Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer. It’s scant consolation, but I’m superstitious enough to believe that an Oscar nomination might have seen him having a more fruitful career. He easily towers over any the male actors I’ve seen tackle Shakespeare, not least of all because he actually seems to be age appropriate. Still, it’s more than that – the story is remembered as an incessant part of pop culture today and Romeo is never remembered as one of the more assiduous of Shakespeare’s heroes; but Whiting’s performance is incredible any way you put it.
Tomorrow the women.
Which of these gents would top your Shakespearean list? Who did I miss?


Simon said...

What of the entire cast of Titus? You have to give them points for completing the first film ever filmed completely on low-grade cocaine!

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Branagh is my all-time favorite of the Shakespearean actors. Much Ado..., Hamlet, Love's Labour's Lost, he escels in all. Leonard Whiting is a solid Romeo, though I still prefer the 1998 version. Gotta confess, I'm not a fan of Fishburne's Othello - the performance or the film, though again, I love Branagh in it. AND DAMN I HAVEN'T SEEN TAMING OF THE SHREW!

Branagh in Much Ado, Branagh in Love's Labour's Lost, Hopkins in Titus, Leguizamo in Romeo + Juliet...and quite honestly, Heston as Player King in Hamlet.

TomS said...

Oh, thank you Andrew for selecting Leonard Whiting! One of the greatest Romeos ever.

Can't think of any you missed...except maybe Brando in Julius Caesar, but that's open to debate.

anahita said...

*clears throat* leo dicaprio as romeo? you know it's true.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

simon hmmm, i never even thought of titus. probably because i never read the play. that movie sure is strange, though.

walter i don't especially love the version of othello, but i love fishburne in it. i want branagh to make another movie, perhaps he can wait till he's older and do lear, perhaps?

tom so glad to see some love for whiting.

oh, ana i love leo but no. :)