Do You Recommend Shakespeare Movies?

Yesterday my boss told me that he’d watched the ending of Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus with his wife the previous night.  Apparently it was on one of the movie channels, or they were channel surfing or something, but the general gist was that he only saw the ending.

He then asked me whether he should take the time to watch the whole thing.

It’s a trickier question than you might first think.  I am careful in my Shakespeare recommendations.  I do not blindly say “ABSOLUTELY YES ALL MUST SEE ALL PLAYS AT ALL OPPORTUNITIES.”  On the contrary, I’m well aware that to the unitiated, sitting through a Shakespeare play can be a chore.

Here’s what I told him, first about Coriolanus and then about Shakespeare recommendations in general:

“Keep in mind that the ending is different from the source text, and this upset some people greatly.  If you don’t know the text that may not matter, but keep in mind that your expectations are now set for the movie, not for what Shakespeare wrote.  Having said that, I think the ending is the best part.  I love the way Coriolanus stands up to Aufidius at the end and hurls his ‘Boy!’ back in his face in legendary fashion.

“Whether you should watch the whole thing? That’s different.  See, I watch them to see different interpretations of my knowledge of the text.  I mean, I don’t know the text inside and out, but I do know enough to compare one version to another and the focus in on why they are different.  I have my scenes that I look for and pay close attention to.  Without that? For the casual movie goer who has no knowledge of the text?  Then I’m not really sure I recommend sitting through it. I think it will be difficult to follow.”

Is that sacrilege?  Even now writing it I feel bad, like I should go seek out the boss and say “I changed my mind.”

Note a couple things.  I’m not talking about live theatre.  I think the experience of live Shakespeare is a must see and I always recommend going.  But we’re talking about movies here, and I think that sitting on your couch with a remote control sitting through two hours of special effects and soundtrack and camera cuts is a different beast.

Second, I would not say the same about Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet.  I think that both those places are so deeply ingrained in popular culture that even if you’ve never read them, you’ve got a significant head start on what’s going on.  But Coriolanus?  That’s a different story.  If somebody hasn’t explained it to you up front (or, even better, while you’re watching it), I think it’s a harder sell.

Thoughts?  Somebody with no knowledge of play X asks whether he should watch a movie of play X.  What do you say?

2 thoughts on “Do You Recommend Shakespeare Movies?

  1. Well, I watch Coriolanus with my wife without knowing It was a Shakespeare. Then, with dialogue we get that, and it was a terrific experience: a corky, twisted, poetic action movie

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