Siskel Film Center Screens 10 Shakespeare Film Adaptations as Shakespeare 400 Closes

Fran Kranz as Claudio in Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Northing.
Fran Kranz as Claudio in Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. Image from the film poster.

Shakespeare on Film is a carefully curated array of film adaptations of Shakespearean plays, beginning this week and running until January 3 at the Gene Siskel Film Center. This is one of the final events in the Shakespeare 400 commemoration of the Bard’s death, organized by Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

The website, that essential film-lovers’ resource, lists 1,189 films based on Shakespeare’s work, some more loosely based than others. (Like West Side Story or Forbidden Planet.) The Siskel team chose 10 films and their list includes only one version of each selected play and one film by each director. The curators focused on films that retain Shakespeare’s language closely.

The featured films are:

Chimes at Midnight (1965), directed by Orson Welles, combining portions of several Henrys plus Richard II. Welles plays Falstaff and the cast also includes John Gielgud and Jeanne Moreau.

Much Ado about Nothing (2012), Joss Whedon’s very contemporary adaptation filmed in 12 days in his own house. One of the film’s taglines was “Shakespeare knew how to throw a party.”

The Merchant of Venice (2004), starring Al Pacino and Ralph Fiennes, directed by Michael Radford.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996), directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. This visually stunning adaptation retains the Shakespearean dialogue but represents the Capulets and the Montagues as warring mafia or corporate empires.

King Lear (1971), directed by Peter Brook and starring Paul Scofield.

Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968), starring Helen Mirren, Diana Rigg and Judi Dench and directed by Peter Hall.

Richard III (1955), starring and directed by Laurence Olivier. Siskel’s Martin Rubin says this is a rousing black comedy with touches of horror movie and Grand Guignol. He also points out that this Richard was the model for Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood in “House of Cards.”

The Tragedy of MacBeth (1971), directed by Roman Polanski. 

Hamlet (1996), starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh. This is the only film version to include the full text of the play. Hamlet runs 242 minutes. Yes, that’s four hours plus.

The Taming of the Shrew (1967), directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

See the Siskel Film Center website for schedules and recaps of each film. Tickets are $11 or $6 for members.


Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.