10 Best William Shakespeare Film Adaptations

Shockingly, Kenneth Branagh isn't in every entry.

Henry V Kenneth Branagh
The Samuel Goldwyn Company/Curzon Film Distributors

There are more than 400 filmed adaptations of William Shakespeare's plays, not to mention the countless live theatrical productions that occur each day. Such a body of work can be daunting for those who've never seen Shakespeare as anything but than the subject of boring English lessons, and there's nothing like a bad adaptation to put a newcomer off someone's work for life. But just as there are only several truly great Shakespeare plays in amongst the many good ones (and a few bad, like The Taming Of The Shrew), so there are a few truly great screen versions of Shakespeare in amongst a multitude of good, decent or passable ones.

This article is designed to serve as both an introduction for those not knowing where to start and at the starting point for discussions about different versions among Shakey's existing fans. To that end, there are a number of ground rules to be observed. Each play can only have one entry on the list: otherwise we would end up with a list of the ten best Hamlets, or Lears, or Macbeths, and that would be rather boring. We are not covering works which pastiche or parody Shakespeare, like the first series of Blackadder, nor are we including films like Infamous or Shakespeare In Love which focus on Shakespeare the person. Vernacular adaptations, which change the language, are (mostly) not included, nor are speculative works like Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. Finally, we are not including recordings of theatrical performances: as Alfred Hitchcock once remarked, they are not films but "photographs of people talking".

So, with those rules in place, let us charge once more into the breach and take a trip to the undiscovered country from whence no traveller returns...


Freelance copywriter, film buff, community radio presenter. Former host of The Movie Hour podcast (http://www.lionheartradio.com/ and click 'Interviews'), currently presenting on Phonic FM in Exeter (http://www.phonic.fm/). Other loves include theatre, music and test cricket.