If Shakespeare Was Alive Today, He’d Have Made Hollow Crown

June 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

In 1996, director Baz Luhrmann took it upon himself to direct a modern adaption of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Luhrmann’s idea behind the project: to replace the parts that made the play one of the writer’s most popular works with the very worst parts of ‘90s popular culture.

The resulting film was a stylish punk modernisation that turned Romeo and Juliet into a noticeably different tragedy — one that replaced the “and? in the play’s title with a “+? because, naturally, that’s just how kids in the rolled in ‘90s.

Sixteen years later, as Luhrmann takes a hatchet to The Great Gatsby (the Jazz Age is now an overblown auto-tuned nightmare apparently), the BBC will be bringing us The Hollow Crown: a series of Shakespeare adaptations consisting of Henry IV parts 1 & 2, Henry V and opening on Saturday night with Richard II.

Not since their ‘Complete Works’ season in 1970s has the BBC produced such an enormous Shakespeare project. The upcoming plays will last two and a half hours each and all of them are extensively filmed on location in the British countryside. It’s an incredibly ambitious project from a channel that has become notorious for not taking risks — and it is, on all accounts, a huge risk.

A number of previous TV adaptations have been poor, leaving many viewers apprehensive about the upcoming series. However, it is true that adapting Shakespeare for the screen is a tricky business. For starters, there are many theatrical devices that don’t play well on screen. With his tragedies, Shakespeare frequently employed a tool in his work where one character, standing alone on stage, revealed their inner-most thoughts to the audience. And some argue that this simply doesn’t translate particularly smoothly outside the medium of theatre.

TV, however, seems like quite a fitting medium for Shakespeare. After all, if Shakespeare were alive today, it’s entirely likely that he’d write for television. Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet — these productions were the CSI of their day, the kind of plays that would now conclude with rolling credits that are immediately squashed to the side of the screen as an irritating voice natters on about what’s coming up next.

Okay, I’m joking with about the CSI thing. But in all honesty, he probably would be a TV writer in this day and age. His work spoke to the every man, not the elites.

Perhaps this is where some other TV adaptations have gone wrong, tending to use television actors, who aren’t always familiar with the work well enough to pull it off. The material comes across as flat, uninteresting and lacking in the humour found in much of Shakespeare’s work, including his tragedies.

Fortunately, The Hollow Crown sounds and looks different, utilising a lot of actors with strong theatre and television backgrounds, such as David Suchet and Ben Wishaw. But for fans of the BBC’s 2005 retellings, this might not appeal. This is full on, no-nonsense Shakespeare — not a modernisation, which is promising..

The Hollow Crown: Richard II Review

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