“Walking through life with you, ma’am, has been a very gracious thing.” Errol Flynn’s final onscreen lines to Ms de Havilland in They Died With Their Boots On. Two-time Academy Award winner, rebel, survivor, lady and the better half of one of the most glorious screen couples. She is part of our classical Hollywood dream and we are all the better for sharing it. Thank you and Happy Birthday!
How you feel about Shakespeare is by and large dictated by how you were taught English at high school – well or not. In my own case that would be both, probably most people’s experience. King Lear is not my favourite (who doesn’t love Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet?) but Akira Kurosawa’s interpretation transferred to mediaeval Japan (by Kurosawa and Hideo Oguni) is pretty sensational – if you get past the humdrum first hour (and yes, it’s very long). An aged warlord divides up his kingdom amongst his sons, pitting them against one another. The dispossessed one remains loyal to his father (ain’t that the truth) and the others drive the land into chaos (ran). There’s a splendidly malevolent daughter in law (Mieko Harada) to drive them all to rack and ruin and the battles are spectacular. Beautifully made but use the fast forward for the first parts (you really won’t miss much) – sacrilege, I know!
Still relevant, after all these years. And cinema has made its peace with his influence, marking it with a wide variety of interpretations with even sub-genres like High School Shakespeare having their own rules. Here are some of the best:
The vogue for interpreting classic texts and placing them in modern high school settings started with the peerless Clueless. Among the films that followed, this is pretty much in the top two. It’s an ingenious take on The Taming of the Shrew (adapted by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith) with the two battling daughters now in school in Seattle and a conscientious if obsessive widowed ob-gyn dad (beautifully played by Larry Miller) trying to control them and their dating lives. Julia Stiles is a find as Kat, Larisa Oleynik does a good job as younger sis Bianca but it’s the charisma machine that was the late, great Heath Ledger that really leaps off the screen as Patrick, the bane/love of Kat’s life. When he bursts into song it’s something. Excellently handled by director Gil Junger.
All Shakespeare should be this good to watch. Meticulously adapted (by Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Paul Dehn and director Franco Zeffirelli), staged, photographed, scored and performed, this is just magic. Originally intended for La Loren and Mastroianni, the director instead got the most notorious couple of all time (barring Cleopatra and Mark Anthony – oh!) and according to his memoirs had the most fun he’d ever had making a film.Barnstorming, bawdy stuff. And Zeffirelli would return to the Bard again the next year, with Romeo and Juliet, casting Michael York once again in a key supporting role.