There's a reason that William Shakespeare's plays have survived and remain relevant over four centuries since they were written. Politics and elements of social conventions get wrapped up in wild, often bizarre trends, but the human condition remains constant.
The motivations we have, and our emotions are burned into our biology, no matter how much social theorists would like otherwise. Love, jealousy, ambition, greed, hare, fear and courage are part of us all, and no dramatist has demonstrated so great an understanding of these basic elements of human psychology than Shakespeare. These aspects of us are universal, which is why Shakespeare has been successfully adapted to just about every culture on earth.
While there have been spectacularly wonderful adaptations of Shakespeare, notable among them are Akira Kurowsawa's Throne of Blood (Macbeth) and Ran (King Lear), and of course some have even morphed into musicals (West Side Story), the language of the original is poetry.
With that in mind, the following are, in my opinion and in no specific order, what I believe to be the five best examples of Shaespeare's work which have been made into motion pictures, and are faithful to the respective plays, some edits due to the length and the time limitations of feature film notwithstanding.
I won't go into much description of them, as there's plenty of information which can easily be found online about each of these movies.
Julius Caesar (1953)
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, starring James Mason, Marlon Brando, John Gielgud, Deborah Kerr, Edmond O'Brien, Greer Garson, and Louis Calhern.
This movie raised skeptical eyebrows with its casting of Brando as Marc Anthony. His, like the rest of the cast's performances, was outstanding.
Directed by Richard Loncraine, starring Ian McKellen, Annette Benning, Robert Downey Jr., Jim Broadbent, Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Maggie Smith.
This version's visual presentation reimagines the play into a 1930's fascist England, but as the dialogue and plot are faithful to the play, it still qualifies for this list, and it's outstanding in its direction and acting.
The Taming of the Shrew (1967)
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael York, Cyril Cusak, Michael Hordern, Natasha Pyne, Alfie Lynch
This is, along with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the best screen pairing of Burton and Taylor. The rest of the cast is tremendous and Zeferrelli's direction is lush and lavish, far better than his other attempts at Shakespeare, including his popular version of Romeo and Juliet.
Directed by Roman Polanski, starring Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw and Terence Bayler.
Whatever one may think of Roman Polanski, he knows how to direct movies and this was Polanski at the height of his talent. Great performances, beautifully filmed, and faithfully transcribed from Shakespeare in a screenplay by Polanski and Kenneth Tynan.
Directed by Lawrence Olivier, starring Lawrence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Anthony Quayle, and Norman Wooland.
You didn't imagine there was going to be a 'best Shakespeare on film' list without at least one of Olivier's movies, did you? Lawrence Olivier is generally considered the best interpreter of Shakespeare in the 20th Century and Hamlet was his most famous role.
Directed by the star, this is the archetypical Shakespeare movie, with performances and direction that make it essential viewing.
There are ideas that are dangerous and which cause social unrest, therefore it is for the good of the people that they must be censored and those who would spread them in the public sphere must be punished.
Every dictator in history has made an argument to the basic effect of the above sentence.
Writers and thinkers from Galileo and Thomas Paine, and great thinkers of the Enlightenment, all the way to D.H. Lawrence, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, J.D. Salinger and a list that could take up pages were all the targets of authorities seeking to consolidate power and authority by prohibiting the expression of ideas they though might undermine the status quo. Certainly there's a big difference between some idiot ranting about the alleged racial superiority of white people on Facebook and James Joyce's Ulysses, but the central issue remains - who gets to decide what ideas you're allowed to read and hear and which you aren't.
In the case of social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter, the matter is less clear cut. They're corporations which effectively operate as private media, and like any similar entity, they have the right to determine what content they wish to publish and which not. But the threat to basic freedoms comes in when governments and authorities tell them what they can and cannot allow on their platforms.
In the days of Voltaire, or Charles Dickens or H.L. Mencken, there were fewer people with the means and the will to have their ideas disseminated to the public. The history of print is not always a positive one. Just as there were Ben Franklins to advance public discourse, there were Father Coughlins to drag it into the gutter. That is the price of a free society.
That price may be getting higher now that every idiot with a smart phone and a data plan can now broadcast their deranged conspiracy theories or invective and on occasion lull other idiots into believing them. But the technologies that have emerged in the last two decades have also added great wealth in the marketplace of ideas. The ability of citizen journalists, alternative media, and regular people who have specialized knowledge means that some of the distortions disseminated by the establishment media can be seen for what it is.
Yes, there is Fake News created by people trying to manipulate the public. But as we see frequently, much of that Fake News comes from established, legacy media which is often just as guilty of lying as a clickbait website based in some fat guy's garage.
Check the veracity of a report by looking at lots of credible sources. Don't believe anything because just one person says it is so if you don't know that person to be an absolutely honest, credible source. And then, still verify if you can. If your emotionally fragile facebook friend puts up a post telling you about some new horror or danger, the odds are it's about as accurate as the reports of an invasion from Mars that people who tuned into the middle of Orson Welles' radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds though had beset them.
Indeed there are some horrible, hateful, bigoted things being said online. There are also some truths being told and some important insights being shared. You're smart enough to be able to distinguish one from the other. And if you aren't, then neither is the government. Because the government doesn't manufacture some special breed of genius who can provide unassailable wisdom, it's made up of people just as stupid, and sometimes a lot stupider and often a lot more malevolent, than you or me. And those are not the people you want dictating your information flow.
The cast is the most impressive you're ever likely to see in an independent Toronto theatre production.
It features nationally and internationally known stars Craig Lauzon, of CBC TV's flagship comedy series, Air Farce, Precious Chong, who is incredibly talented and comes from the amazing entertainment lineage of being Tommy Chong's (of Cheech and Chong) daughter, Canadian stage legends, John Jarvis, Jane Spidell, and Peter Millard, all of whom are considered among the best stage actors ever produced in this country, and two amazing young talents, Jenny Weisz, who was the lead in the Young People's Theatre Dora -nominated production of Annie, and the incredible, RADA-trained actor now back from England, Bijal Bhatt.
Who is so wise that you would be willing to entrust with the authority to make decisions of what you should and should not see? Should education and public discourse be controlled by a few people with one kind of perspective who suppress things with which they disagree or just don't like?
Anyone who is interested in these types of issues should definitely see An Unsafe Space, no matter which side of that argument they take. Because all sides will be given concepts to think about and discuss.
Free speech, censorship, and the ideologically-based suppression of ideas, as well as the stereotyping of people and their opinions based on their racial and ethnic identities, are among the hottest topics currently in the public sphere.
The comedic play AN UNSAFE SPACE, which will have its world premiere in Toronto on January 10, 2019, addresses these concepts in a biting, irreverent way that entertains while acting as a stimulus for people to think about and confront their preconceptions.
Inspired by an actual events at a major North American university, AN UNSAFE SPACE begins with a meeting of progressive academics who have gathered to find ways to foil a large donation to their department by a conservative benefactor.
The play takes place in the home of Joanna Whitney, a Political Science professor, and includes some of her colleagues, who also happen to be her friends. Joanna also had arranged to meet her new romantic interest, an aboriginal lawyer named Oliver Waterman, at the same time that the impromptu meeting is occurring. Rather than cancel her date with Oliver, curious to learn what his political stances are and how he interacts with her friends, Joanna experiments with letting her personal and professional relationships interact.
To the surprise and consternation of Joanna's colleagues, Oliver expresses strong opinions which contradict the expectations of what the academics believe a First Nations person would and should hold.
Romantic and professional rivalries and disputes, and the outrage that Oliver instigates at the meeting leads to clash after clash. The events leave the characters confronted with the unexpected necessity of having to examine their own outlooks and prejudices.
There is no other play that addresses the important issues discussed in AN UNSAFE SPACE in the same way.
At a reading of the play done at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, one of the participants described it as "a smart play written for smart people." Darrell Dennis, the renowned aboriginal actor and playwright, who participated in the reading, said, "Thank you for writing this so audiences can finally see a play with an aboriginal lead who isn't a victim."
Upon reading the play, the nationally-syndicated columnist and radio host Andrew Lawton said of AN UNSAFE SPACE, "It's hilarious and delightfully irreverent. AN UNSAFE SPACE slays every sacred cow, taking no prisoners in the process. The play offers a tragically funny look at how the perpetually offended interact behind closed doors. It certainly won’t be appropriate for any campus safe spaces, but will be a must-see wherever it’s allowed."