Films Loosely Based on Shakespeare

Adapting the works of William Shakespeare for the cinema doesn’t always mean using the Bard’s actual dialogue and setting the story in the time period in which it is supposed to take place. Keep in mind that during Shakespeare’s day, costumes worn in productions of “Julius Caesar” featured nary a toga because the actors always performed in contemporary dress. Still, those guys spoke the words that Shakespeare used to tell his stories. Fortunately for those who enjoy a great story but enjoy Shakespeare’s dialogue not so much, movies can and have so loosely adapted Shakespeare to the point where sometimes you can’t even spot William’s hand in the process at all.

Henry IV, Part I

Shakespeare’s version takes place in a medieval setting with devious monarchs, fat lazy slobs, a spoiled rich kid tricking everybody as part of his cunning secret plan and the most alluring character the Bard ever created: Hotspur. “My Own Private Idaho” begins by taking its title from a B52s song and then proceeds to adapt Shakespeare’s version of “Henry IV, Part I” in a way that only Gus Van Sant could. The story told in “My Own Private Idaho” does not make this one of those adaptations that attempts to retell the original play in another context. The film is more of a thematic adaptation, although lines from Shakespeare’s play do pop up in the dialogue. Unfortunately, many of these lines are spoken by Keanu Reeves, who should ever be allowed anywhere near Shakespeare again.

King Lear

One of the most famous and critically successful loose adaptations of a Shakespeare play that tosses out the words and keeps only the storyline is “Ran.” The legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa made a comeback of sorts with this retelling of “King Lear” set during Japanese’s past when warlords were lords of the island. Those who can’t make it through the language of Shakespeare are advised to avoid “Ran” since it requires the ability to read subtitles and if you can’t follow Shakespeare’s English, you probably won’t be able to follow subtitled Japanese.

The Tempest

Challenges are faced by filmmakers whether they attempt a loose adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays or one of his more obscure. “The Tempest” falls somewhere in between being very famous and obscure. This relative unfamiliarity explains how so many people can sit through the entirety of “Forbidden Planet” without even realizing they are essentially watching a story originally told by Shakespeare. Recreating Shakespeare’s tale of magic, stranded castaways, monsters and fairies was probably best adapted in an alternative way by making it a sci-fi flick, but “The Tempest” also inspired a loose adaptation set in anxiety ridden New York City.

Romeo and Juliet

Probably no other Shakespearean play has been loosely adapted more than “Romeo and Juliet.” Probably because the central issue of star crossed love is so slack that you could set it in just about any genre imaginable. The most famous adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” is another movie set in New York City. “West Side Story” has become so much ingrained into the consciousness that it is more likely that some moviegoers responded to Leonardo DiCaprio’s modern updating of the Shakespearean tragedy as an adaptation of “West Side Story.”

The Taming of the Shrew

One of the loosest of loose adaptations of Shakespeare is the teen comedy “10 Things I Hate About You.” The movie is constructed upon the central issue of the play, but its status as a very loose translation is mostly based upon the odd fact the taming of the shrew is done so tamely that you may not even realize any taming is being attempted.