Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Guest Post: Top 10 Favorite Shakespearean Adaptations by Kim Askew & Amy Helmes, authors of the Twisted Lit Series

Today we are extremely excited to have Kim Askew and Amy Helmes dropping by to talk about their 10 Favorite Shakespearean Adaptations! We'll be reviewing two of the books in their Twisted Lit series, Tempestuous and Exposure, both based off of Shakespeare's plays!

Our 10 Favorite Shakespearean Adaptations by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes:

As Shakespeare devotees (the books in our Twisted Lit series are adaptations of his plays!) we’re always on the lookout for anything inspired by the Bard, and we often post our finds on our blog, Romancing the Tome. There are so many great Shakespeare film adaptations, it’s hard to narrow it down to just a reasonable few, but--in no particular order--here’s our best attempt! We’d love to know your favorites, too!

1. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, written and directed by Tom Stoppard
Tom Stoppard, who co-wrote Shakespeare In Love with Marc Norman, is a master of dialogue and created a cult favorite with R&G. Originally conceived as a stage play, this one probably wins for most creative adaptation. Two minor characters from Hamlet are at the forefront of this darkly hilarious existential look at fate, with Shakespeare’s play co-existing within the movie and driving the plot. (It’s so meta.)
2. Romeo + Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrmann
This modernized 1996 flick starring Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes is all kinds of crazy brilliant, featuring Shakespeare’s original dialogue alongside a musical number by Mercutio; gun-toting, ultra-stylish gangs; and Paul Rudd as Paris dressed in an astronaut suit. Somehow, it all works.
3. Hamlet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Every actor who wants to be taken seriously dreams of being cast as Hamlet. This 1990 adaptation was Mel Gibson’s opportunity. The movie, which also stars Glenn Close and Helena Bonham Carter, always reminds of us of Cher's lines in Clueless: "Well, I remember Mel Gibson accurately, and he didn't say that. That Polonius guy did." Classic.
4. Tempest, directed by Paul Mazursky
We’re going to go way out in left field and recommend this strange (in a Woody Allen sort of way), but entertaining 1982 adaptation of The Tempest, starring a pre-Sixteen Candles Molly Ringwald as Miranda. Miranda’s bitter, divorced dad (played by John Cassavetes) retreats to a semi-deserted Greek island with his bored daughter and new girlfriend (Susan Sarandon). When wife Gena Rowlands and her Greek shipping tycoon boyfriend and his son wash ashore after a storm, things really heat up.
5. Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Kenneth Branagh
Branagh and his then wife, Emma Thompson, star alongside Kate Beckinsale, and Denzel Washington in this film adaptation, which is near and dear to our hearts. Branagh made some unconventional choices (like giving Keanu Reeves a major role as the villainous Don John), but he wound up with a movie that is incredibly endearing and lovely to look at. Personally, we have always found the treatment of the heroine Hero hard to watch in any production, but if you can ignore the Elizabethan misogyny, we think you’ll love this movie.
6. Throne of Blood, directed by Akira Kurosawa
This 1957 movie is a foreign classic and a retelling of one of our favorite plays: Macbeth. Set in medieval Japan, it tells the story of Lords Washizu and Miki who, after a great battle, meet up with an old woman who shares with them her compelling predictions for their futures. Washizu’s wife wants to make sure the woman’s predictions come true. Maybe you can guess what happens next?
7. Romeo and Juliet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli
You may have seen this popular adaptation from 1968 in your high school English class, but if not, you’ll want to put it in your viewing queue. This is a traditional rendering filmed in Italy with period costumes and music. It’s also the first production of the play to use actors closest in age to the characters of Romeo and Juliet; Actor Leonard Whiting (Romeo) was seventeen and actress Olivia Hussey (Juliet), sixteen. To say we love this movie would be an understatement. (Kim even has the vintage movie poster hanging in her bedroom.)
8. Hamlet, directed by Laurence Olivier
As far as we’re concerned it would anathema to have a list of Shakespeare adaptations without including this 1948 black and white film, directed by and starring British Shakespearean actor Laurence Olivier. This was the first non-American film to win Best Picture, and Olivier (41 when the film was released) was the first actor to direct himself to a best actor Academy Award.
9. Shakespeare in Love, directed by John Madden
How was Shakespeare inspired to write Romeo and Juliet? This feel-good movie, starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow, imagines how the beleaguered writer’s romance with a beautiful woman who wants to be an actress (only men and boys were allowed to act in Elizabethan theatre) might have inspired him to create his most beloved play. The film is actually a combination of storylines from Romeo and Juliet and the Twelfth Night, plus pure invention!
10. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Okay, so it’s not a movie...yet. Last we heard, hottie actor/screenwriter Wentworth Miller was writing the film treatment of David’s debut novel, a retelling of Hamlet about a mute boy who runs away from the Wisconsin farm his family has owned for generations. After a perilous journey, with only his loyal dogs for companionship, he finally returns home to confront his uncle, whom he believes is responsible for the death of his father. Needless to say, we can’t wait for this one to eventually hit theaters!

About the Authors:

Kim Askew and Amy Helmes are the authors of Tempestuous: A Modern-Day Spin on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Exposure: A Modern-Day Spin on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Find out more about their books at

To read more about Book-To-Film Adaptations from Kim and Amy check out their blog Romancing The Tome!

For more about the Twisted Lit series check out these sites!


  1. Great post! I haven't heard of these books before but I love all things related to Shakespeare. I've seen quite a lot of these movies and I think my favorites would be Hamlet, Shakespeare in Love, and Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet.

  2. What a fun post! I don't love all the plays of Shakespeare but Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet are great. I read a re-telling of Hamlet that was modernized "Falling for Hamlet" recently and I loved it!

  3. I have not read a classic or a Shakespeare...must really do that. Great posting!!! I hear Rachel Caine is writing a Romeo Juliet using the other two dudes ..darn forgot their names.


    1. I actually love the sound of that! I can't remember their names either at this moment but seeing as I hate both Romeo and Juliet, a novel from anyone's perspective but their's will be fun to read :)


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