The Best and Worst Shakespeare Screen Adaptations of the 2010s
William Shakespeare was a talented man, to put it lightly. Even in death, his works can evoke the most passionate emotions—or loudest of snores. While his genius is certain, we won’t lie and say every play and adaptation has been a lively experience. Truth be told, sometimes they’re just downright boring and you can’t argue with us there. Before the hardcore Shakespeare loyalists attack us, heart us out: Plays are meant to be performed, and to the everyday reader or viewer who didn’t major in literature in college, everything rests on the medium and direction in which his plays are realized. Long story short: It’s not the Bard’s fault.
In true dramatic Shakespearean fashion, we’ve taken a look at the best and worst Shakespeare screen adaptations of the 2010s that have brought justice (and shame) to the Shakespeare name.
The Hollow Crown (2012-2016)
Trust the British to get Shakespeare right. This mammoth series by BBC takes six of Shakespeare’s best historical plays (Richard II; Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; Henry V; Henry VI, Part 1; Henry VI, Part 2; Henry VI, Part 3; Richard III) and compresses them into two seasons with amazing performances from Britain’s best. Its powerhouse cast includes Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Irons, and Patrick Stewart. Their gripping performances do each play justice.
The tragic play is made even darker in the 2015 film that transforms Macbeth into a true medieval war film. It’s a bewitching rendition, made even better by Michael Fassbender who mesmerizes as the title character. All Hail Fassbender, thou shalt be king hereafter.
The King (2019)
Timothee Chalamet can do no wrong, even when he’s handed one of the most complicated characters in the Bard’s works: Henry V. Epic battle scenes, political maneuvering, and a shit load of power—The King is a period drama worth watching.
Coriolanus takes one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays about the downfall of a Roman soldier and puts it in modern times, complete with guns and military fatigues. Despite being modernized, it’s perhaps the rawest adaptation on the list, and the tension is practically palpable. Ralph Fiennes and Gerald Butler star in the film. This is also Fiennes’ directorial debut.
Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
While tragedy is timeless, comedy is another story altogether. This black and white screen adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing takes an almost experimental approach to the comedy, and while it’s entertaining at parts, it’s definitely not suited for everyone’s taste.
Think Sons of Anarchy meets Romeo + Juliet. This 2014 film is a contemporary retelling of the Bard’s tragedy Cymbeline, using rival biker gangs in place of kings and queens. It almost manages to accomplish the gritty storytelling it’s after, and we appreciate the effort. It’s saving grace? The performances of Ed Harris, Ethan Hawke, and the late Anton Yelchin.
The Tempest (2010)
You’d think that a Shakespeare film starring Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou, and Russell Brand would actually be good. But you’d be disappointed. The CGI is cringe-worthy, the soundtrack is just plain bizarre, and the flow is too disjointed to follow. It’s basically The Tempest reimagined as an acid trip after taking a strong dose of LSD. But it tried to be edgy and unique. It tried.
Romeo & Juliet (2013)
Well. It’s cute, we suppose. But this adaptation is notorious for not being faithful to the source material, cutting out some of the play’s best dialogue and only retaining the more mainstream lines. While the soapy, mushy execution of the romance is a little overkill, the passion of the story is missing altogether. But hey, the sets are nice and the people are cute.