Celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday with some of the many, many movie versions of, about, or inspired by his plays. Coming up this spring is the “Much Ado About Nothing” in a contemporary setting — it was filmed at director Joss Whedon’s home, in black and white, starring Nathan Fillion (“Castle,” “Firefly”) and Clark Gregg (“The Avengers”). Compare it to the Kenneth Branagh version with Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Kate Beckinsale, and Michael Keaton.
Here are some of my other favorites:
1. The Taming of the Shrew Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton bring their legendary combustible chemistry to this rambunctious version of Shakespeare’s most famous battle of the sexes. For an extra treat, pair it with the Cole Porter musical it inspired, Kiss Me Kate.
2. Romeo + Juliet Baz Lurhmann’s dazzling version of one of the world’s great tragic love stories is a treat for the eyes, ears, and soul. For an extra treat, pair it with the more traditional version directed by Franco Zeffirelli.
3. Shakespeare In Love This best-picture and best-actress Oscar winner is a highly fictionalized account of the writing of “Romeo and Juliet,” with the magnificent Judi Dench, who also won an Oscar as Queen Elizabeth and a brilliantly witty script by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. For an extra treat, try to catch a performance of A Cry of Players, a play about the young Shakespeare by the author of “The Miracle Worker.”
4. Henry V There is the thrill of the St. Crispian’s Day speech. There is the heart-wrenching parting with the old friends who cannot be a part of the young king’s new life. But for me, the greatness of this play is that in the midst of all of the drama, Shakespeare inserts a scene of a young French princess trying to learn English so she can understand the man who is walloping her countrymen — and makes it work. For an extra treat, compare it to the Laurence Olivier version, very much the product of its WWII era.
5. The Tempest My own favorite of Shakespeare’s plays is thrilling with Helen Mirren as Prospera, a wizard who calls on all her powers of enchantment to provide a happy ending for her daughter and justice for herself. For an extra treat, try the space-age adaptation, Forbidden Planet.