It seems that back in the 1990s, William Shakespeare was a pretty popular guy. People realized that he wrote great material – material that could be easily translated to modern audiences, and suddenly Shakespeare was just as popular as the Spice Girls (who were, in fact, quite popular back in the day).
It’s hard to say what exactly spawned this fascination with the Bard, but for me it would have to be the movie Henry V. This movie, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, came out in 1989, but I didn’t see it until 1993. At the time I was going through a slightly obsessive Christian Bale phase, and had to see every movie he had been in (which as of the summer of 1993 was only about five movies). One of those movies was Henry V, and so I went to my local Video Update and, despite the strange looks I received from the teenage boys working there, I checked out the movie.
Well, I was slightly disappointed that Christian Bale was only in the movie for about a total of 15 minutes, appearing in short scenes about once every 45 minutes, and then – SPOILERS – dies at the end. But the fact that I thought he looked super cute in the movie made me want to watch it again and again, until finally I realized that I really liked the movie. A 15-year-old Christian Bale was just an added bonus.
The same year I saw Henry V, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing came out in theaters. Again I blame the appeal of this movie on a cute boy, that boy being Robert Sean Leonard and Keanu Reeves. And of course after the viewings of Henry V I became a Kenneth Branagh fan (even though he was way old), so I just had to see this movie. And I’m so glad I did, because it’s probably my favorite Shakespeare movie of all time. Seriously, you have to watch this movie. It’s just oozing with sunlight and grapes and wine and tanned bodies and dancing and Keanu “acting”…and it’s just amazing.
The whole cast is pretty awesome: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, the aforementioned cute boys, Kate Beckinsale, Denzel Washington, and Michael Keaton. Patrick Doyle’s music score is absolutely glorious, and the Italian landscape will make you want to pack up your bags and move to Tuscany in a heartbeat. It was at this moment I decided that Shakespeare was the best shiz ever written, and I couldn’t get enough.
Over the next three years, there were some more Shakespeare movies coming out, including the powerful adaptation on Richard III starring Ian McKellen (Gandalf!) back in 1995, but it wasn’t until late 1996 when Shakespeare stole my heart once again. This time I blame Baz Luhrmann and his insane adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, but mostly I blame Leonardo DiCaprio.
Romeo + Juliet = OBSESSED
After seeing the movie in the theater, I decided that I was going to marry Leonardo DiCaprio because I thought he was the BEST THING EVER in the movie, and I also decided that I hated Claire Danes because she got to make out with him in a pool. I became obsessed with the movie’s soundtrack, mainly the song “Lovefool” by The Cardigans, and would listen to the radio constantly for that song to come on before I finally bought the CD.
I saw the movie two more times in the theater, and cried every single time I watched it. Because Leonardo cries in the movie. A lot. Cries to the point where snot practically flies out of his nose. And what 17-year-old girl WOULDN’T want to watch that over and over again????
Finally the decade ended with what I like to call “the secret Shakespeare film”. Since Shakespeare in Love was clearly everyone’s favorite movie from 1998-1999, the movie 10 Things I Hate About You was easily ignored, making it a secret to most movie-goers. It was also a secret because no one really knew that it was a Shakespearean adaptation in disguise!!!
Best. (Shakespearean) Teen. Movie. Ever.
This fantastically awesome teen movie starring Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (heart) was actually based on the play The Taming of the Shrew, and if you pay attention to the actual movie instead of staring at Heath Ledger’s hair the whole time, the movie is filled with Shakespeare crap. Character names, location names, even prom dresses…all Bardy. But the filmmakers do it in a way where it’s totally modern and understandable, and disguise it with really cool teen actors of the day. And did I mention that it’s smart, well-acted, and hilarious? Just like The Bard himself.
Julia Stiles went on to be in two other Shakespearean adaptations over the next two years: 2000’s Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke (also a really good, modernized retelling) and O, which I only saw because of Josh Hartnett and frankly don’t remember a thing about except that it’s a retelling of Othello.
Was this movie about basketball or something?
After the turn of the 21st century, Shakespeare began to lose a little of his steam, and people become more interested in things like Hobbits and boy wizards. But I have a feeling we’re in for another Shakespeare renaissance, and I’m pretty sure this will be thing that sets it off. At least in my world.