The Top 10 Shakespeare Films

By February 10, 2015January 6th, 2018Top 10 Lists

8. Laurence Olivier’s Henry V (1944)

No discussion of Shakespeare on screen is complete without reference to the immortal Laurence Olivier.  His three Shakespeare movies, Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948) and Richard III (1955), are all masterful, but it is his Henry V that I have included in this list for two main reasons.  First, it was both critically and, even more importantly, commercially successful (Reinhardt’s Dream was critically lauded, but less successful at the box office), thus proving that there was potentially a mass market for screen adaptations of Shakespeare.  Secondly, it established the template for transposing Shakespeare from the stage to the screen.  Famously, it begins in the Globe theatre where the Chorus asks the audience to use their imagination – “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend/The brightest heaven of invention,/ A kingdom for a stage, princes to act/And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!” – before literally taking flight to the fields of France.  Of course, Olivier’s depiction of Henry V’s invasion of France was a conscious homage to the Allied invasion of France on D-Day; the film was released less than six months after that momentous event and dedicated to the Allied troops.  Incidentally, this is another Shakespeare film with a sensational score, by the great English composer William Walton.  The original music that almost certainly accompanied Shakespeare’s plays (some of which may just have been written by Shakespeare himself) is, sadly, lost to us, but in the scores of Korngold, Walton and others we have a new “Shakespeare soundtrack.”



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