CHICAGO – Let’s face it, high schools all over the world did William Shakespeare a disservice. The famous bard wrote plays meant to be seen on stage and not read in a classroom. And as most Shakespeare enthusiasts will tell you, it’s only when his words are brought to life by talented actors that you can fully appreciate the humor, pathos and humanity of his work.
So in honor of Shakespeare’s 458th birthday on April 26 (or maybe April 23? It’s confusing), we’ve collected some filmed adaptations/riffs of his most famous works, all of which are streamed for free on tube. So pick a comedy or tragedy to start with and toast Big Willy on his birthday.
17 years later Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danish delivered the definitive 1990s version of “Romeo and Juliet”, Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth tried doing the same for the 2010s. The results are, well, a bit mixed. Although this adaptation does not use Shakespeare’s original text (the screenplay is by “Downton Abbey” scribe Julian Fellowes), it is located in Renaissance Verona, so it’s a “you win, you lose” for authenticity. Still, it’s a treat to watch a then-adolescent Hailee Steinfeld step out onto a balcony and enter the main phase of his career.
Before Denzel Washington won an Oscar nomination for playing Macbeth in Joel Coenthe adaptation of 2021, Michael Fassbender stepped into the role in this 2015 release from the Australian director Justin Kurzel. The brutal tragedy follows a Scottish general whose life becomes a bit of a roller coaster after a trio of witches prophesy that he will become king. Although Kurzel’s “Macbeth” struggled at the box office, it received critical acclaim for its compelling performances and unique cinematic flair. Come for Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the ambitious Lord and Lady Macbeth, stick around for the expertly staged battle sequences.
ALSO FREE ON TUBI: “William Shakespeare: The Life and Times of William Shakespeare”
Famous Shakespeare lover Ian McKellen not only does he play the titular villain in this famous historical tragedy, but he also co-wrote the adaptation. While the play tells the story of the tyrannical rise of a medieval king, this adaptation transports the action to 1930s Britain and reimagines Richard as a fascist plotting to usurp the throne. As McKellen himself said so“When you put this incredible old story in a believable modern setting, it will hopefully make your hair on the back of your neck stand on end and you won’t be able to think of it as ‘just a movie’ or, indeed, ‘just old-school Shakespeare.'”
For another pair of Ian McKellen and the Bard, watch this 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company television film of “King Lear,” which began filming shortly after stage production ended. McKellen plays Lear, the aging king who wonders how to divide his kingdom between his three daughters. This version combines theatrical and cinematic conventions in an original and intriguing way. So treat yourself to the gift of watching one of our top Shakespearean actors deliver the playwright’s iconic “Blow, winds” speech in a veritable torrential downpour.
ALSO FREE ON TUBI: Maxine Peake puts her own spin on ‘Hamlet’ in this filmed staging
Even by Elizabethan standards, the gender politics of “The Taming of the Shrew” is rather questionable. So one of the best ways to experience this particular Shakespearean comedy (besides “10 Things I Hate About You,” of course) is through this delightful 1940s musical by Cole Porter. Filled with iconic songs like “Another Op’nin’, Another Show”, “Wunderbar”, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” and “Too Darn Hot”, “Kiss Me, Kate” takes place behind the scenes of a musical version of “The Taming of the Crone.” There, divorced couple Fred and Lilli must work out their own relationship issues while playing Petruchio and Katherine on stage. This particular revival was filmed live on stage in London and features all the glitz and glamor you could want from a classic Golden Age musical.
ALSO FREE ON TUBI: The 2016 romantic comedy “Shakespeare’s Diaries”
And now for something completely different! Playwright Tom Stoppard turns Shakespeare’s canon on its head with this absurd and tragicomic version of “Hamlet”. Instead of following the titular Danish prince, this version revisits the events of the play through the eyes of two minor characters, the courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Gary Oldman and Tim Roth play the eponymous roles in this film adaptation of Stoppard’s play, which Stoppard directed himself. (Star of “Game of Thrones” Iain Glen is also available as Hamlet.) For Shakespeare skeptics, this might be the perfect way to understand the Bard – while poking fun at him a bit too.
ALSO FREE ON TUBI: MST3K takes on “Hamlet”
About the writer: Caroline Siede is a film and television critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she spent four years lovingly analyzing the romantic comedy genre, one film at a time, in her When Romance Met Comedy column for The AV Club. She also co-hosts the film’s podcast, role calland shares his views on pop culture on Twitter (@carolinesiede).
Everyone is a stage: More theater on Tubi
Staging (2020): We wouldn’t call it that david holding/Michael Sheen meta-comedy the only good “pandemic show”, but it’s certainly one of the best – if only because it accurately captures the surreality of those early months better than any well-meaning drama. Tennant and Sheen play fictionalized versions of themselves trying to rehearse a piece on Zoom during lockdown. Get ready for a delicious parade of deadpan guests (Samuel L. Jackson! Lady Judi Dench!) and Tennant’s many headbands. So many banners. Rated TV-MA. Two seasons streaming on Tubi. Also presenting Georgia Tennant, Anna Lundberg.
Gypsy (2015): Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”) stars in this revival of Stephen Sondheim and Jules Styne’s legendary musical, filmed live at London’s Savoy Theater in 2015. After watching it, you’ll be pumped, you gonna be awesome, gonna have the whole world on Tubi’s plate. TV-PG. 142 minutes. Real: Lonny Price. Also presenting Pierre Davison.
Romeo and Juliet (2013): Shot live on Broadway in 2013, this production features Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad like the eponymous cursed lovers. Modern costuming and staging (Romeo arrives on a motorbike!) help make the original Shakespearean text more accessible to romance lovers everywhere. Rated TV-PG. 135 minutes. Real: Don Roy King. Also presenting Donte Bonner.
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