The Bard as seen by the Beeb

The Bard as seen by the Beeb

It is the season of bovies: movies made out of books. Two recent spin-offs have created equal parts consternation and joy,and lots of chatter.

It is the season of bovies: movies made out of books. Two recent spin-offs have created equal parts consternation and joy,and lots of chatter. Was Arthur Conan Doyle’s staid Sherlock quite so splendidly muscular as Guy Ritchie’s sexy sleuth? Was Rajkumar Hirani’s Ranchod anything like Chetan Bhagat’s Ryan?

Controversy,as any canny producer will tell you,is a smart sales pitch. All the natter about the two bovies helped sell tickets,and re-kindled a debate that will not die any time soon — which is better,the printed word or the image that moves?

The modern-day BBC adaptations of four of Shakespeare’s plays will not cause irate viewers to breathe down anyone’s neck,because the author is not here to hold press conferences about the adaptations. And,anyway,his work is safe in the hands of those who will not do it any other way than in doubloons and ruffed collars.

The most striking part of this quartet — Macbeth,A Midsummer Night’s Dream,Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming Of The Shrew — is the setting. A restaurant’s kitchen,simmering with jealousy and heat,becomes the heart of the plot to kill the owner,by a talented chef and his ambitious wife (Macbeth,the odd one out in this otherwise light-hearted fest). A forest retreat is the location where the king and queen of fairies,Oberon and Titania,are at war; so are three other couples (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). A TV studio is turned into a battleground for an estranged but made-for-each-other couple (Much Ado…). And the cut and thrust of politics is what’s used to tame a bad-tempered pol,who knows only to scream,never to smile (The Taming Of The Shrew).


Not all four are successful in pulling off a transfer. A Midsummer Night’s Dream suffers the most,because to be a gay fairy in this day and age is only to be sniggered at. The two pairs of young lovers have tiffs and get sauced by the love juice,dropped into their eyes by Puck,who tries too hard. Plus,the king and the queen of fairies aren’t as magical as Shakespeare would want them to be. The shrew is too shrewish,her redeeming qualities come to the fore too late. All we see of her is a screwed-up face,an unlovely bun,not a young girl who comes alive under an expert lover’s touch. And,her eccentric,free-spirited Petruchio wears,gulp,women’s dresses,because he is sometimes that way inclined: modern is all very well,but we draw the line somewhere.

The other films more than make up for it. Much Ado… is a delightful kerfuffle. Appropriately,Macbeth,one of Shakespeare’s most atmospheric plays becomes the most effective adaptation: James McAvoy makes a wonderfully timorous co-conspirator,primed by his wife,to get rid of the restaurant’s owner. The three witches are played by three bin men —those who collect rubbish — and the heath is a windswept dump.

And,oh yes,William Shakespeare shares top billing with the director.