Shakespeare, Period. [Movies]

Ophelia | (2019) starring Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen

Summary: Based on the novel by Lisa Klein, this movie is the story of Hamlet shown from Ophelia’s point of view. There is so much more to her from beginning to end, you’ll feel like you’ve experienced a completely new Shakespeare play by watching it. Daisy Ridley and Naomi Watts both play impressively realistic characters – great takes on female roles we are used to seeing and dismissing. If you are unfamiliar with Hamlet, go watch just about ANY version before seeing Ophelia. Then consider watching your fave version of Hamlet after watching Ophelia to see if the asides and hidden details match up.

Gush Sesh: I hadn’t heard of the book until after I watched the DVD and commented upon it – it will likely be added to my TBR pile in the future. This movie inspired conversations about nontraditional female leads/roles. Seeing Hamlet told from different points of view is accomplished well, but it will not give you Hamlet’s experience. This story is specifically about Ophelia as a fully-fleshed character rather than the tragic waif-like victim we are offered in too many versions. This Ophelia is smart, powerful, and will not take others designing her future for her.

Coriolanus | (2011) starring Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain

Summary: The movie starts off with Coriolinus BEFORE he is called that for his accomplishments (his name is actually Caius Martius). Between military maneuvers and politics, he runs a harrowing obstacle course of debt, threat, and accusation before being labeled traitor. Under exile, his fate is begged for by the women of his family, the best performance given by the indomitable Vanessa Redgrave. As Coriolanus offers his life to his mortal enemy, gloriously portrayed by Gerard Butler, they start up a new and unexpected relationship seemingly filled with brotherhood. However… dun dun DUN!

Gush Sesh: I loved it for the modern action-sequence feeling of the filming. This work could have translated well into a first-person-shooter game with either solo or team-up possibilities. For a brash man-of-action story, it’s mighty grim in places while celebratory in others. Jessica Chastain is a favorite actress of mine (see her in Ava in an atypical female lead role), but I didn’t feel we saw enough of her character’s relationship with her husband to understand what she’d gone through over the years. All in all, it is a visually compelling story with modern combat and great dialogue.

Tempest | (2010) starring Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou, Felicity Jones

Summary: In the traditional story of Prospero, the usurped magic-wielding Duke of Milan, he is turned out by his own brother (Antonio) who colluded with the king of Naples (Alonso), sent afloat with his tiny daughter and books on the open sea. This version is given a gender twist that makes it all the more accessible by female viewers for the misogyny experienced by Helen Mirren’s sorceress, Prospera. While the relationship between mother and daughter (played by Felicity Jones) could play a mite differently from having a leading male character, it is definitely the same story. The visual and audio special effects make it stand out from other productions.

Gush Sesh: You can’t go wrong with Helen Mirren. She’s fabulous no matter what role she’s given. Make her the sorcerer of Milan, the witchy spell-throwing, slave-making noble who survives abandonment just to spite her detractors. The character is somewhat brutal in how she deals with others (Ariel, Caliban), but is that a personal flaw or the result of her experiences? So many notable actors played parts in this work, you’ll enjoy spotting them with recognition.

Merchant of Venice | (2004) starring Al Pacino, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins

Summary: In 16th century Venice, when a merchant (Jeremy Irons) borrows money from an abused Jewish moneylender (Al Pacino) to help his love-struck friend (Joseph Fiennes) win the heart of his romantic interest (Lynn Collins), the bitterly vengeful creditor demands a gruesome payment.

Gush Sesh: In a story that can be controversial and polarizing, this version of the Merchant of Venice is set in luxury and brilliant color. The unanticipated delight of this work is Lynn Collins, dexterously fighting back as Portia with logic and calm. It is her portrayal that makes me want to find other versions of the play/film to watch, not just the emotions of Shylock or Antonio.

Richard III | (1995) starring Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr.

Summary: Shakespeare’s immortal tale of ambition and murderous treachery is brilliantly updated and brought to life in this riveting masterpiece. With two Oscar nominations and a star-heavy cast (Sir Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey, Jr., Kristin Scott Thomas, and Dame Maggie Smith), an introduction to Richard III might mean a little research before or during. The setting is far removed from 16th century England, replaced by a 1930s America, yet the tale is the same. Smart man grows evil plotting his climb to power, smart man eliminates any obstacle along the way with duplicity and murder, smart man finds himself grasping the ultimate goal far too briefly before facing retribution.

Gush Sesh: Relatively unfamiliar with fictional Richard III stories before this film, I was astonished at how much fun it was to cheer on and alternately boo the bad guy, played wickedly by Sir Ian McKellen. He brings extreme charisma to an unlikeable character doing heinous things. The lavish costumes and sets are worth the watching alone, much less the amusing dialogue and fine acting. Even the cinematography is of note – creative movement from the camera’s angle turns a soliloquy into three-dimensional art.

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Smithton Public Library

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