Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Top Ten Shakespeare Films Streaming on Netflix

The Top Ten Shakespeare Films Currently Streaming on Netflix, Augmented with a List of the Five Most Unusual Shakespeare Films Available; Together with The Four Worst Shakespeare-Related Films One Can Stream Therewith.

Celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday by watching some of the best, some of the rarest, and some of the worst films that relate to his plays, his poems, and his biography ever made!

Netflix has recently been allowing some truly marvelous—and some unbelievably rare—material to stream from its movie-laden servers.

Below please find three lists of the amazing, the astonishing, and the terrifying.

Top Ten Shakespeare Films Currently Available for Streaming on Netflix:

10. Much Ado About Nothing

This should be much higher on the list, but I'm making a quick edit to drop the previous number ten (Shakespeare High, not currently available on Netflix) in favor of this. Joss Whedon's marvelous and beautiful black and white film version of Much Ado About Nothing is destined to become a classic. Watch it now.

9. Macbeth

I have not yet seen this film in its entirety.  Patrick Stewart stars as Macbeth in this very bloody modernized version of the play. Those who have seen it—once they stop twitching—say that it's really very good.

8. The Tempest 

I hate to admit it, but I haven't yet found the time to watch this filmed version of a stage play. Christopher Plummer stars as Prospero. What am I waiting for? Well, I suppose I'm waiting for the grading to be done, but that needn't stop you from watching it!

7. Hamlet

I really enjoy this Hamlet. Set in New York City in the early 2000s, the film traces the turmoil surrounding the Denmark Corporation. Its postmodern use of images to restructure the narrative is intriguing. And it has Ethan Hawke and Julia Stiles. Click here for a post by Bardfilm on the film.

6. Love's Labour's Lost

I don't care what anyone says, I still think this clunky, bizarre, not-terribly-well-performed Branagh film is a lot of fun. As an added bonus, we get Cole Porter songs and synchronized swimmers! What's not to love? Click here for a post by Bardfilm on the film.

5. Coriolanus

Ralph Finnes' film had far too limited a theatrical release. But the world can make up for it now by streaming it ad infinitum or at least ad terminum from Netflix. It's another very bloody film. If it gets to be too much, switch to Love's Labour's Lost for a few minutes of light relief.

4. Shakespeare in Love

This is the film that snatched the Academy Award away from Anonymous (to hear the Oxfordians tell it). In reality, this film deserves even greater honors that it has received—though you should take it with a historical grain or two of salt. Click here for a post by Bardfilm on the film.

3. King Lear

Ian McKellen's King Lear is unspeakably deep, and the supporting cast helps make the jewel of his performance shine all the brighter. Click here for a post by Bardfilm on the film.

2. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Although this film could have been edited more fully—it's about thirty minutes too long—I still enjoy it every time I watch it. Tom Stoppard's play about what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are like when they exit from Shakespeare's play into their own world has here become an extremely well-acted, astonishingly interesting film. All college students should read this play and watch this film while in college (and I try my best to make that happen); everyone else should also read it and see it! Click here for a post by Bardfilm on the film.

1. Slings & Arrows

I'm thrilled that this Canadian show is so readily-available. It's one of my very favorite Shakespeare-related productions. Watch the first two episodes, and you'll be hooked. The story is about actors at a famous Canadian Shakespeare festival, their intriguing lives, and the Shakespeare they enact! Click here for a post by Bardfilm on the film.

Five Most Unusual Shakespeare Films Currently Available for Streaming on Netflix:

5. Otello

I suppose I have to admit that this production isn't all that unusual, but it is wonderful—and I was a bit surprised to find it available on Netflix. I still remember the first time I heard this opera. I was in college, and I happened to find an LP in the free bin at Vintage Vinyl. Those first notes—so full of energy—knocked me sideways.

4. Siberian Lady Macbeth

This is also operatic, but in a different sense. It's an odd, dark, black and white film, set in Russia and directed by a Polish director. If you like Kurosawa, you'll like this.

3. Machete

I cannot believe that Netflix has this. For several years, I've searched for a DVD of Machete—to absolutely no avail. Yet here it is, streaming live on Netflix. I have not yet seen it, but it is an Othello-related film filmed in Puerto Rico in 1959.

2. Royal Deceit

I've seen this—but it was years ago! It's a Hamlet film that is primarily based not on Hamlet itself but on the source material for Hamlet. I remember it being fairly violent and having scenes that you wouldn't want to watch with your grandmother sitting on the couch next to you.

1. Measure For Measure

I had high hopes for this film because Measure for Measure is one of Shakespeare's most underrated plays. This film version of the play isn't fabulous, but it does help get the play into the public eye. The production takes Shakespeare's Vienna and puts it in the British military. I wish they had provided a better sense of the purposes for making that switch, but it's still a highly-watchable film. The only DVD available is in Region 2 format—North American watchers, rejoice! You can stream it from Netflix instead! Click here for a post by Bardfilm on the film.

Four Worst Shakespeare Films Currently Available for Streaming on Netflix:

4. Rome & Jewel

Oh, but this is bad. It's Romeo and Juliet as terrible MTV music video—complete with terrible music. It's so bad I watched it and then was so embarrassed to have watched it that I never wrote a review of it.

3. Private Romeo

I haven't seen this, but I've seen the trailers—they were enough to convince me that I did not want to see it. It looks very contrived and very poorly acted.

2. The Comedy of Terrors

I haven't yet seen this, either, and perhaps I'm doing it an injustice in putting it in this category. But I've seen the cast list, and it doesn't appear to have even one Dromio. Still, I will try this—I gather that one of the characters recites some lines from Macbeth.

1. The Tempest 

Derek Jarman's Tempest gave me more nightmares than The Comedy of Terrors is likely to. I know that a lot of film buffs and Shakespeare scholars speak highly of this, but it's poorly lit, the lines are mostly mumbled, and that makes the film on the incomprehensible side. Try the Christopher Plummer film listed above instead.

Links: The Home Page of Netflix.

Click below to purchase the films from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Click on the titles listed in the post above to watch the films on Netflix
(from which Bardfilm receives nothing but kudos).


Anonymous said...

Derek Jarman's Tempest on he worst Shakespeare adaptation list!? What utter nonsense. This film is a highly inventive version of the play and its avant-garde style should not be used against it.

9works said...

You should update your list to include Joss Whedon's "Much ado about nothing".

kj said...

Thanks, 9works! It's almost impossible to keep a list like this updated—Netflix changes its offerings very frequently—and I appreciate knowing that the Whedon Much Ado is currently available!


Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2016 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest