You likely know by now that legendary film critic Roger Ebert has lost his battle with cancer and is at long last reunited with his partner Gene Siskel who passed away a good number of years ago. In tribute I went through his review archives to see what he had to say about Shakespeare on film.
Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet
“…long but not slow, deep but not difficult, and it vibrates with the relief of actors who have great things to say, and the right ways to say them….Branagh’s version moved me, entertained me and made me feel for the first time at home in that doomed royal court.”
Ok, then, what about Hamlet 2?
“The problem with a sequel to Hamlet is that everybody interesting is dead by the end. That doesn’t discourage Dana Marschz, a Tucson high school drama teacher, from trying to save the school’s theater program with a sequel named “Hamlet 2.” … he brings back the dead characters, plus Jesus, Einstein and the very much alive Hillary Clinton.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Whether you’re a follower of Harold Bloom or not, how cool is it that a movie critic can drop his name like that?
“Why is Shakespeare so popular with filmmakers when he contains so few car chases and explosions? Because he is the measuring stick by which actors and directors test themselves. His insights into human nature are so true that he has, as Bloom argues in his book, actually created our modern idea of the human personality. Before Hamlet asked, “to be, or not to be?,” dramatic characters just were. Ever since, they have known and questioned themselves. Even in a comedy like “Midsummer,” there are quick flashes of brilliance that help us see ourselves. “What fools these mortals be,” indeed.”
Much Ado about Much Ado
“…this is not a film “of” a Shakespeare play, but a film that begins with the same materials and the wonderful language and finds its own reality. It is cheerful from beginning to end.”
Twefth Night, or, Did I Mention Romeo+Juliet Sucks?
The period has been moved up to the 18th century, and the dialogue has been slightly simplified and clarified, but Shakespeare’s language is largely intact (and easier to understand than in Baz Luhrmann’s new “Romeo & Juliet”).
Shakespeare’s language is not hard to understand when spoken by actors who are comfortable with the rhythm and know the meaning. It can be impenetrable when declaimed by unseasoned actors with more energy than experience (as the screaming gang members in “Romeo & Juliet” demonstrate).
Wait… Peter Brooks’ King Lear? How old was Ebert?!
I was surprised to find this review of the 1972 film. I immediately went searching for an Ebert review of the legendary Dream but alas I could not. (Turns out that Ebert started reviewing movies in 1967, by the way.)
“Shakespeare’s Lear survives in his play and, will endure forever. Brook’s Lear is a new conception, a rethinking, and a critical commentary on the play. It is interestingly precisely because it contrasts so firmly with Shakespeare’s universe; by deliberately omitting all faith and hope from Lear’s kingdom, it paradoxically helps us to see how much is there.”
Step Aside, Private Ryan. Somebody loves Shakespeare in Love
“A movie like this is a reminder of the long thread that connects Shakespeare to the kids opening tonight in a storefront on Lincoln Avenue: You get a theater, you learn the lines, you strut your stuff, you hope there’s an audience, you fall in love with another member of the cast, and if sooner or later your revels must be ended, well, at least you reveled.”