Thursday, January 22, 2009

Recommendation: Shakespeare Retold

Welcome, AM New York readers! A few people alerted me that this blog was mentioned in your morning paper, so I hope you like what you see.

Tired of the romance novels yet? It's not that I'm tired of them, but I need a change of pace (and boy, is the book I'm reading now a big change of pace). But until I get to that review, chew on this: Shakespeare Retold.


I'm a bit of a Shakespeare fan. I studied the Bard while at Oxford University (just one semester...I'm not that much of a smarty pants) and am not ashamed to admit that I keep a Complete Works in my nightstand. Around the holidays (right around the time I fell on my rear and could do little more than whine about the welt on my bum), I Netflixed a slew of movie versions of his plays, and Netflix, being the smart folks they are, said I might like Shakespeare Retold, a 2005 BBC project that took four plays (Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew and Midsummer Night's Dream) and remade them without the iambic pentameter and in modern settings.

Two big thumbs up. The adaptations are spot on, and the settings in which the plays were placed are, for the most part, fitting -- Much Ado About Nothing in a local news station, Macbeth in a high end restaurant, Taming of the Shrew in British Government and Midsummer Night's Dream in a vacation spot. The Midsummer setting wasn't a stretch, but I don't know how you could do the play without a forrest.

Hunk factor? Yes please -- a young James MacAvoy plays Macbeth and Rufus Sewell as Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew? Perfect.

Taming of the Shrew was my favorite -- it's a tough one to put into modern sensibilities given that the play is about breaking down a woman into submission. Making Katherine an ambitious politician who feels she needs to marry in order to increase her chances of being elected to even higher power helps. And Sewell plays the perfect brash playboy who has the one thing Katherine wants: a title. His scenes in drag are worth buying the entire set, as is him running around screaming "Kiss me Kate!" If you get a chance to see it, let me know what you think about Katherine's final speech. Interesting what they did with a controversial topic.

The best casting was Shirley Henderson as Katherine in Taming. She's a tiny woman, and was able to rev up such fury for everything that I laughed just looking at her (American moviegoers will remember her as one of Bridget Jones' friends and Moaning Myrtle -- yes, a student -- in Harry Potter).

If Shakespeare scares you (let's face it -- he can be intimidating), these DVDs are a great entryway into the plays. If you love the works like I do, they're a real hoot, especially when lines from the original plays are sprinkled into the dialogue (thank you, BBC for making sure the line "I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is that not strange?" stayed in the adaptation).

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1 comment:

Sarah Eriksen said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I'd heard the Much Ado adaptation was a lot of fun, but I didn't know there were four in the Retold series - or that James MacAvoy had anything to do with the project :) Guess I'll have to look into that.
As a fellow fan of the Bard, you might be interested in checking out Shmoop, which has a lot of great Shakespeare analysis. (Macbeth, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, and Richard III are among my favorite pages.)