Shakespeare on Screen

Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing

The plays of William Shakespeare were intended to be performed more than read. Since the earliest days of cinema, filmmakers have been adapting his works for the screen, often with tremendous success.

Whether doggedly faithful to the language and setting, or offering up something entirely new and radical, the range of films inspired and informed by the Bard is extraordinary.

This list offers a selection of just some of our favourites, all of which illuminate Shakespeare's words, themes and legacy in fresh, accessible ways for young people.

You can also check out our Shakespeare-themed podcast suitable for both primary and secondary clubs.

Gnomeo and Juliet

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration84 mins

Gnomeo and Juliet(2011)

William Shakespeare’s classic 'Romeo and Juliet' gets a truly bonkers reworking in this inventive and hugely entertaining CGI comedy.

Proving that even the youngest audiences can be introduced to Shakespeare, this colourful British animation is entirely populated by garden gnomes. While elements of the story are understandably diluted, this is a fun, musical treat, full of cheeky references for older audiences and remains the only film to feature lawnmower chases as well as a talking Shakespeare statue!

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The Lion King

CertU

Age group5–14

Duration89 mins

The Lion King(1994)

Song-filled Disney classic about a lion cub who runs away from the pride allowing his evil uncle to become king.

Many people don’t know that Disney’s iconic animated epic is actually modelled on 'Hamlet'. While the dialogue is of course different, the film is nevertheless ideal for introducing young audiences to the themes of Shakespeare and demonstrating his impact across all storytelling.

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Shakespeare: The Animated Tales - Disc 1

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration100 mins

Shakespeare: The Animated Tales - Disc 1(1992)

Short animated versions of Shakespeare's plays, the perfect way to get to know the work of one of Britain's greatest writers.

This collection of short films uses a variety of beautiful and innovative animated techniques to ingeniously bring Shakespeare’s stories to young people. Condensing each story down to half an hour, the films pack in all the drama of the plays but in extremely accessible fashion, taking in the whole spectrum of his work – comedy, history and tragedy.

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West Side Story

CertPG

Age group7+

Duration145 mins

West Side Story(1961)

The classic love story of 'Romeo and Juliet' is transported to 1950s New York in this Hollywood musical.

The story of 'Romeo and Juliet' was memorably relocated to street gangs in 1950s New York in this lavish musical classic. As well as a series of barnstorming set-pieces and dazzling choreography, the film taps into themes around immigration and violence that remain relevant today, powerfully illustrating how the play is about much more than a pair of star-crossed lovers.

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Bill

CertPG

Age group11–14

Duration94 mins

Bill(2015)

Bill Shakespeare’s had a go at everything, but to the frustration of his wife Anne he hasn’t found a real job. Will he make his name in London?

This hilariously inventive comedy tells the story of the young Bill Shakespeare’s attempts to make a name for himself as a playwright in London, due to his chronic ability to find a “real job”. A rip-roaring, Python-esque adventure that takes in spies, lost loves and an attempt to blow up Queen Elizabeth I, while throwing in some real historical insight along the way.

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Romeo and Juliet

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration132 mins

Romeo and Juliet(1968)

Zeffirelli's 1968 version of Shakespeare's tragic love story.

For many, the Zeffirelli version of perhaps Shakespeare’s best-known story remains definitive. Beautifully shot in sun-kissed Italy, this is a sensuous version of the play that had as much of an impact on 1960s audiences as the Baz Luhrmann version did 30 years later, not least for its controversial decision to cast actual teenagers in the title roles.

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The Tempest

CertPG

Age group11–16

Duration106 mins

The Tempest (2010)

An intriguing adaptation of Shakespeare's final and most mystical play.

This bold telling of the maritime drama from theatrical director Julie Taymor will not be to everyone’s tastes, but is daring enough to guarantee an audience reaction of some sort. Visually stunning, the film also takes a very fluid approach to the gender roles of the original play eliciting strong debate alongside the ambition, razzmatazz and playful humour.

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A Caribbean Dream

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration80 mins

A Caribbean Dream(2017)

Barbados-set modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' as a Caribbean wedding soon goes awry.

Transporting the setting of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to Barbados, this film fully embraces the magical, fantasy elements of Shakespeare’s work with a unique Caribbean twist, demonstrating how the much-loved plays can be merged with other cultures and folklore from around the world.

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10 Things I Hate About You

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration94 mins

10 Things I Hate About You(1999)

Inventive 90s comedy, in which Shakespeare's 'The Taming of the Shrew' is relocated to a modern American high school setting.

The late 1990s saw a wave of Shakespeare’s plays retold in modern American high-schools. This adaptation of 'The Taming of the Shrew' was one of the wittiest, cleverly tapping into and reassessing the original play’s often problematic attitude towards gender, whilst retaining an acute insight into the various anxieties and complexities associated with modern adolescence.

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Get Over It

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration82 mins

Get Over It(2001)

A high-school boy tries to win back his ex-girlfriend in this loose interpretation of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream'.

In the world of the high-school, couples break-up all the time. And when one half of the couple is replaced by somebody seemingly more popular and attractive, there is bound to be tension! Taking this premise and working it into the story of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream', this is a slight but fun comedy full of romances and rivalries.

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She's the Man

Cert12

Age group11–16

Duration105 mins

She's the Man(2006)

A teen girl poses as her own brother while he sneaks off on holiday, but problems arise when she develops a crush on her football teammate.

This farcical high-school comedy-of-errors, based on 'Twelfth Night', sees a teenage girl pose as her twin brother while he sneaks off to London. Adapting the gender-switching nature of the source material for the modern day is no mean feat, but ‘She’s the Man’ captures the chaos of romance and young love with style.

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Romeo + Juliet

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration115 mins

Romeo + Juliet(1996)

Loud and colourful adaptation of Shakespeare's classic play about two star-crossed lovers from bitterly feuding families.

Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of the star-crossed lovers’ story breathed new life into the idea of what a Shakespeare adaptation could be. With young Hollywood stars in the lead roles, it retained the original dialogue but modernised the setting and featured an acclaimed pop soundtrack.

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Looking For Richard

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration112 mins

Looking For Richard(1996)

Documentary in which celebrated actor Al Pacino tries to find a new way of looking at the most-produced of Shakespeare's plays, 'Richard III'.

A lifelong obsessive of the bard, Al Pacino directed this documentary chronicling the star’s attempt to unlock the enigmatic character of Richard III. With re-enactments of scenes with Pacino in character, alongside detailed examination of the play’s plot, context and ambiguities, this is a riveting insight into interpreting Shakespeare for stage and screen.

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Caesar Must Die

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration75 mins

Caesar Must Die(2012)

A quasi-documentary following a re-enactment of Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar' in a high-security Italian prison, with prisoners playing the roles.

This intense, quasi-documentary relocates 'Julius Caesar' in a modern Italian prison. With every character being played by actual inmates, the location adds an intense, unique claustrophobia to the play. Informed by their backgrounds, the in-mates capture an understanding of the characters, with themes of friendship, intrigue, duplicity and greed feeling all the more real.

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As You Like It

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration127 mins

As You Like It(2006)

Shakespeare's classic comedy is transplanted to 19th century Japan with samurai swords and stunning scenery.

A much more unconventional setting for a Shakespeare adaptation is 19th century Japan, accompanied by samurai swords, in Kenneth Branagh’s version of the classic comedy which features a diverse cast including David Oyelowo, Bryce Dallas Howard and Brian Blessed.

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Ran

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration155 mins

Ran(1985)

Epic set in medieval Japan and based on Shakespeare's 'King Lear', in which an ageing man splits his land between his three sons, resulting in war.

Legendary director Akira Kurosawa tackled Shakespeare several times during his career. In 'Ran', 'King Lear' is told as an epic in medieval Japan. It is an extraordinarily visceral experience, including one of the most memorable battles ever staged. As well as its visual impact, the film also ingeniously unpacks the themes of one of Shakespeare’s most complex plays.

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Henry V

CertPG

Age group14+

Duration132 mins

Henry V(1989)

Energetic adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, where the young King Henry embarks on the conquest of France.

Playing the title role, Kenneth Branagh made his directorial debut in this stirring, all-star interpretation of Shakespeare’s telling of the build-up to the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War. Faithful to the text and setting, the film positioned Branagh as a master in bringing Shakespeare to a modern mass audience.

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Much Ado About Nothing

Cert12

Age group14+

Duration104 mins

Much Ado About Nothing(2012)

A modern dress adaptation of Shakespeare's play with a cast all linked to the filmmaker's previous work.

Joss Whedon swapped superheroes for Shakespeare in this low-budget black-and-white romantic comedy shot entirely in the director’s own house. Providing an intimacy not very often seen in Shakespeare on film, it feels incredibly contemporary despite retaining the original language, elevating what could have been a playful experiment into something wittier and more complex.

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Shakespeare In Love

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration123 mins

Shakespeare In Love(1998)

Romantic comedy about a young woman living when only men were allowed to act, who disguises herself as a boy and auditions for William Shakespeare.

Not an adaptation of Shakespeare’s work but instead a film about the time in which the enigmatic character purportedly lived, this romantic comedy follows a female actor who is so determined to appear in one of his plays that she, like many of the Bard’s characters, dresses up as a man in order that she may audition for the great playwright.

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Coriolanus

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration123 mins

Coriolanus(2011)

Ralph Fiennes's award-winning directorial debut is a stunning and imaginative treatment of Shakespeare’s play.

A lesser-adapted text on the big screen compared to some of its better-known siblings, Ralph Fiennes delivers a brutal reimagining of Shakespeare’s play in his directorial debut. With themes around war, power and politics, this version retains the intention of the source text while drawing parallels with the state of the modern world.

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Macbeth

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration113 mins

Macbeth(2015)

Bloody and brutal adaptation of Shakepeare’s tragedy about a man consumed by ambition and desire for the throne.

Gritty, earthy and intense, this version of the Scottish play is not for the faint-hearted. With savage battle scenes and a chilling, blood-soaked atmosphere throughout, it is an often uncomfortable experience. But it also succeeds in being fresh and innovative, as well as faithful to the text, boosted by extraordinary performances from its two leads.

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O (Othello)

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration95 mins

O (Othello)(2001)

'Othello' is relocated to an American high-school and competitiveness on the local basketball team.

This turn-of-the-century drama places 'Othello' in an American high-school, drawing parallels between the play and contemporary society. Swapping Venice for the claustrophobic world of school basketball, themes of jealously, revenge and racial tension come to the fore in this intelligent drama that suffered from uncomfortable parallels to reality on its release.

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My Own Private Idaho

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration100 mins

My Own Private Idaho(1991)

Engrossing tragi-comedy centring on the friendship between two street drifters, a troubled gay youth in love with a rebellious rich kid.

'Henry IV' is reimagined with bikers and hustlers on the streets of Portland, in this hip but heartfelt story of self-discovery, drifting, and longing from Gus Van Sant. Artistically ambitious and with two striking male stars in the leads, the film has also earned an important place in the canon of LGBTQ+ American cinema.

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