A month of Shakespeare films
The British Broadcasting Corporation has a long and storied history of beaming out Shakespeare. As early as 1937 it was producing selected scenes directed for the small screen, and in 1938 it sent out its first transmission of a complete Shakespeare play, a modern-dress presentation of Julius Caesar. These broadcasts ended with the onset of World War II in 1939, and none of the company’s pre-war material has survived. Things picked up again in the late ’40s, after which broadcasts of complete plays and Shakespeare amalgamations started to appear again, often with very notable actors and directors from the “modern” era of Shakespeare. From 1978 through 1985, the BBC famously produced a series of 37 episodes that comprised the Bard’s complete dramatic works adapted specifically for television production.
To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s passing, which will be observed on April 23, BBC Worldwide North America is distributing four of its classic Shakespeare productions, each from a different decade, plus a general enrichment program. The series will be screened at no charge at the Center for Contemporary Arts (1050 Old Pecos Trail, 505-982-1338) for the next five weekends, each presentation being given twice on attached Saturday and Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. First up, on Saturday, April 2, and Sunday, April 3, is As You Like It, from 1963, in a co-production with the Royal Shakespeare Company. This romp around the Forest of Arden was a career-defining highlight for Vanessa Redgrave, in the central role of Rosalind.
On April 9 and April 10, there will be more forested shenanigans in the guise of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an installment of the BBC’s popular “Play of the Month” series in 1971. It was shot on location at Scotney Castle in Kent, and with quite a cast: Eileen Atkins as Titania, Robert Stephens as Oberon, Lynn Redgrave as Helena, Michael Gambon as Theseus, and Ronnie Barker as Bottom. Move ahead to April 16 and April 17, and it’s time for tragedy: King Lear, with Ian Holm in the title role, directed by Richard Eyre. Back to a lighter note, the weekend of April 23 and April 24 is given over to a 90-minute condensation of The
Taming of the Shrew, from 2005, a production from the BBC’s “Shakespeare Re-Told” series, in which a rewrite by Sally Wainwright sets the action in the midst of modern politicking in Parliament, with Shirley Henderson as Kate and Rufus Sewell as Petruchio.
To pull everything together, the screenings conclude on April 30 and May 1 with Shakespeare and Us, in which cultural historian Simon Schama considers the Bard’s world of kings and courtiers, aristocrats and bawds, squires and cutpurses. Eking out his charming commentary are scenes played by the likes of Judi Dench, Simon Russell Beale, and Harriet Walter. — James M. Keller
Young rebel: Vanessa Redgrave