From Macbeth to Romeo and Juliet


It has been reported that Joel Coen’s next project will be an adaptation of Macbeth with Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand.

One of the Oscar-winning Coen brothers and two Oscar-winning stars take on the Bard of Avon.

Make room on the shelves during rewards season.

Directors have been exploiting Shakespeare’s plays since the days of talking movies, with considerable success.

How can you really go wrong with this kind of source material?

Well, in general you can’t – and before his enemies rise up, Shakespeare in love is not an adaptation of Shakespeare (plus it’s a pretty entertaining romantic comedy).

Directors have been exploiting Shakespeare’s plays since the days of talking movies. Image: Getty

But what are the best of the myriad adaptations of Shakespeare’s most famous plays?


The Scottish play has long been superior fodder for filmmaking as it involves war, witches, murder, ghosts and madness.

In 2015, Adelaide’s boy Justin Kurzel delivered an admirably cold, austere and bloody rendition starring Michael Fassbender as the doomed regicide and Marion Cotillard as his “evil queen.”

Roman Polanski made his extremely bloody version in 1971, shortly after the murder of his wife and unborn child by the Manson family.

Some critics have suggested the violence of his Macbeth resulted from Polanski’s projection of the trauma that shattered his family, especially the gruesome murders of Macduff’s wife and toddler son.

Typical of Polanski’s treatment of his lead actresses, he notoriously forced Lady Macbeth (Francesca Annis) to act out her nude closet scene.

But the best cinematic Macbeth is also the strangest.

Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957) recast history in feudal Japan and artfully combines the world of humans and spirits in the austere, bloody and bizarre manner of Japanese cinema.

“When Birnham Wood comes to Dunsinane” is one of the most disturbing sequences in modern cinema, to which corresponds the image of Toshiro Mifune’s usurper, pierced by twenty arrows, howling wildly as if to alert the spirit world of his coming.

Romeo and Juliet

This enduringly popular tragedy has seen a few weird iterations, starting with The Cursed Lovers played by Leslie Howard, 43, and Norma Shearer, 34, in 1936.

Nicolas Cage, of all, made his debut in valley girl (1983), which was a teen comedy update of the play, to Tarantino’s favorite, Michael Bowen, as the preppy Tybalt.

Baz Luhrmann produced a noisy, typically brash version on “Verona Beach”, where Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes fell victim to gang warfare from their criminal clans.

But it is the 1968 version of Franco Zeffirelli which is the greatest.

Gorgeous and alluring in every way, from teenage stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, to the spectacular medieval town of Gubbio replacing Verona.

Filmed during the legendary “Summer of Love”, it was Shakespeare for the discontented youth movement, and features the most violent and energetic of all the sword brawls between Romeo, Mercutio and Tybalt (a sinister Michael York and sinister).


Hamlet is a difficult tragedy to adapt to film, so it’s amazing that so many directors get it right.

Even Disney has successfully exploited the story for The Lion King, with Jeremy Irons’ Scar, a villain of truly Shakespearean proportions.

Mel Gibson brought Mad MaxElsinore’s menacing presence in another forceful adaptation by Franco Zeffirelli in 1990.

Kenneth Branagh’s epic and icy portrayal in 1996 demanded audiences, but was undoubtedly a success.

With Derek Jacobi stealing the stage as Claudius, it was also irresistible to those of us who saw Jacobi as Danish prince get rid of his treacherous uncle Patrick Stewart in the 1980 BBC production.

Michael Almereyda’s 2000 adaptation may not be the best, but it’s one of the most interesting.

Starring Ethan Hawke as the procrastinating prince and Kyle MacLachlan as Claudius, this Hamlet takes place in the high-tech and fierce corporate world of New York City.

Strange and fascinating in itself, he’s also a fascinating model for HBO’s tragic and brutal family saga. Succession.

The Tamed Shrew

One of the bard’s raucous comedies makes a perfect cinematic prize with all the screaming and throwing things around.

As Romeo and Juliet, he initially suffered from absurd early casting (Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford in 1929) and even more absurd writing credits (“Sam Taylor’s Additional Dialogue”).

Shakespeare’s tragedy Zeffirelli clinched gold in 1967 throwing paparazzi targets Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as Petruchio and Kate.

But most people’s favorite adaptation deviates entirely from the original language.

10 things I hate about you (1999) introduced Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles as the belligerent lovers, and just like the 1995s Distraught is Austen’s favorite cutscene, The Tamed Shrew turned out to be an ideal source for a teen comedy.

Who Said Shakespeare Was Stifling?

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