All The World's A Laugh...
Shakespeare's Comedies On Screen – Part II
In Part I of "All The World's A Laugh...” we looked at some of the important screen adaptations of four of Shakespeare's best comedies... The Taming Of The Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Comedy of Errors and Merchant of Venice
Here we look at the balance major four: Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and All's Well That Ends Well,
“I can see he's not in your good books,' said the messenger.
'No, and if he were I would burn my library.”
Much Ado About Nothing (written between 1598-99)
One of Shakespeare's more popular plays, it is an interesting combination of burlesque humour combined with themes like honour, deception and gender roles. The title itself is a play on words: nothing and noting were similar sounding words during the 1600s, with the latter meaning gossip, hearsay and overhearing.
Some men, including a prince, a lord and a count, have returned from a war and are staying at the house of a governor in Sicily. The count and the governor's daughter fall in love and decide to marry, while the governor's niece and the lord were once in love, and are now always at each other's throats, so the rest of the group tries to get them together.
The first movie adaptation was the 1913 silent film by Phillips Smalley, post which several screen versions have been made, but nearly all of them have been for television. Amazingly the first cinematic adaptation in English was in 1993 by Kenneth Branagh and stars Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Michael Keaton and Kate Beckinsale. It became one of the most successful Shakespeare films at the box office and was highly acclaimed, receiving a Cannes Palme d'Or nomination as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
Parts of “Dil Chahta Hai” (2001) are based on the play. Although not mentioned anywhere, there is a tacit acknowledgement, a boat in one of the scenes is named 'Much Ado' #1
And in 2012, Joss Whedon's critically received interpretation was released. It was largely unaltered from the original except that it had a modern-day setting and several minor roles were eliminated or merged into others.
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts”
As You Like It (written in 1599)
The story follows the beautiful daughter of an exiled Duke as well as a young gentleman of the kingdom, both of whom escape into a forest in order to escape persecution, meet a number of interesting characters and eventually find love in each other.
The first version was in 1912 by Stuart Blackton, Charles Kent and James Young. Since then there have been several adaptations for TV and theatrical releases, but very few were successful or of any importance.
Among those that are:
- The 1992 interpretation by Christine Edzard where the story is set in a contemporary but dystopian world.
- The 2006 version by Kenneth Branagh where the setting is shifted from medieval Europe to the later half of the 19th century in Japan. The film won a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
- And a 2012 Bengali adaptation by Suprio Chakrabarty.
The most interesting interpretation though would be “Love: As You Like It” (2012) by Marika Sonja Cotter. Set in present San Francisco's Mission District, a melting pot of art and culture, it was made from a crowd sourced budget of approximately $16,000 and has an intriguing usage of colours, space, movement, visuals and performances.
"Be not afraid of greatness:
some are born great, some achieve greatness
and some have greatness thrust upon them."
Twelfth Night, or What You Will (written between 1601-02)
Possibly written as an entertainment for a Christmas celebration, the play is about two twins, Viola and Sebastian, who are caught in a shipwreck and get separated. Viola disguises herself as a boy who falls for a Duke, who is infatuated with a Countess, who in turn ends up in love with Viola thinking she is a man.
The first adaptation in 1910 was by Eugene Mullin and Charles Kent. Post which there were many film and TV versions including a Russian production: “Dvenadtsataya noch” (1955). But perhaps the more popular interpretation is the one by Trevor Nunn in 1996 starring Ben Kingsley, Nigel Hawthorne, Mel Smith and Imogen Stubbs.
"Motocrossed" (2001) based the story in the setting of motocross racing, a 2003 version for television by Tim Supple had a multi-ethic cast with Parminder Nagra as Viola and Ronny Jhutti as her brother, while “She's the Man” (2006) by Andy Fickman changed the setting to a high-school.
“All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”
All's Well That Ends Well (written between 1604 and 1605)
Regarded as one of Shakespeare's problem plays since it does not cleanly slot in either comedy or tragedy, for our purpose we have placed it here since it was originally considered a comedy. The play is about a poor and low status girl who falls in love with a countess' son but who is uninterested in her. The girl goes to great lengths to marry him and make him fall in love with her and eventually wins his heart.
Probably the most cinematically under-represented amongst all of the Bard's major plays with no documented movies till 1968. Which by no way means that no movies were made but rather than they were not of much consequence, which by the way is the same as them not being made, as far as we are concerned.
Interestingly, the earliest film with the play's title was in 1912. However the movie was unconnected to the play and likewise there were about 4-5 other films from Italy, France and USA with similar titles, but which were not based on Shakespeare's work. A Chinese film, “Ga yau hei si” (2009) by Clifton Ko is a literal translation of the title but is likewise unrelated.
The 1968 version by John Barton and Claude Whatham as well as the 1978 adaptation by Wilford Leach were both made for television. And a 2012 adaptation by John Dove was well received by critics.
Up next we will take a look at some screen adaptations of Shakespeare's chief historical histrionics.
So which is your favourite Shakespeare comedy, and your favourite screen adaptation of a Shakespeare comedy..? Share with us in the comments below.
#1: Prof. Rajiv Verma, vice-president of the country's Shakespeare society.