From Stratford to Deptford: Shakespeare @ NXDFFF 2016

To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, this year’s New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival has a strand dedicated to showing how a range of filmmakers have responded to the Bard’s legacy in their own unique and diverse ways. With over 1000 adaptations to choose from we have gathered together an intriguing mix of films that show how his universal themes can be adapted to any time, place or genre. We will also be creating a short film based on workshops with local young people that uses grime to explore links to Shakespearean themes. To paraphrase the great man himself “All the world’s a screen”

As a clear statement of intent we have not one but three (and possibly even four) takes on Hamlet. First off is the straightforwardly titled Hamlet from 2000 with Ethan Hawke as our melancholy protagonist and Kyle MacLachlan as head of the Denmark Corporation. Set amongst the beauty and squalor of contemporary New York and shot in cool blues, this is a movie about urban isolation and the damage it causes, using corrupted wealth as a surrogate for stained royalty. Coming from a completely different and slightly deranged direction is Johnny Hamlet which could be re-titled “A Fistful of Shakespeare”. This bravura spaghetti western opens with a stunningly mystical dream sequence and proceeds to gallop through the story with all the verve and sweaty close ups you would expect from the genre. Last up in our trio of Hamlets is Disney’s The Lion King. The hugely successful tale of Simba’s quest to fulfil his destiny is not the usual animated animal romp and manages to balance some pretty heavy life issues with crowd-pleasing musical numbers from Elton John. Slightly separate from these three films is the tale of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Directed from his own play by Tom Stoppard, it takes two minor characters from Hamlet and places them centre stage. The tragedy is that they think it’s all about them. Two local boys made good, Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, take the leads in this 1990 production.

 If it’s the dark side you are interested in, you can savour the grit and dramatic intensity of Polanski’s 1971 version of Macbeth in the atmospheric surroundings of St Nicholas’ Church, Deptford. Jon Finch and Francesca Annis give performances charged with fury and sex appeal as a decorated warrior rising through the ranks and his driven wife, scheming together to take the throne by any means. Shot against a series of stunning, stark British Isle landscapes, this version of Macbeth is among the most atmospheric and authentic of all Shakespeare films.

For another authentic if less bloody adaptation we have Julius Caesar from 1953. A lavish, splendid and star-studded Hollywood tale of betrayal and political intrigue set in ancient Rome.   The method acting of Marlon Brando’s loyal Antony confronts the classicism of Gielgud’s Cassius and a menacingly smooth Brutus played by James Mason. A cast to die for.

How about Shakespeare in space? Try Forbidden Planet, a 1956 journey into the Sci-Fi possibilities of The Tempest. Walter Pidgeon is the Prospero figure, presiding over a paradisiacal world with his lovely young daughter and their servile droid, Robbie the Robot. When the crew of a spaceship lands on the planet, they become aware of a sinister invisible force that threatens to destroy them. This screening will be followed by a DJ set from Uninvited Guests playing a mix of suitably atmospheric electronica.

Next up, we have Shakespeare for the MTV generation with the fast and furious Romeo + Juliet from Baz Luhrmann. Transforming the Montagues and Capulets into contemporary LA gangs, wielding guns instead of daggers, this has the pace and style of a music video but the dialogue is pure Shakespeare. Here, the director reflects on his approach:

What I wanted to do was to look at the way in which Shakespeare might make a movie of one of his plays if he was a director. How would he make it? We don’t know a lot about Shakespeare, but we do know he would make a `movie’ movie. He was a player. We know about the Elizabethan stage and that he was playing for 3000 drunken punters, from the street sweeper to the Queen of England – and his competition was bear-baiting and prostitution. So he was a relentless entertainer and a user of incredible devices and theatrical tricks to ultimately create something of meaning and convey a story. That was what we wanted to do.

Finally, we will be exploring our own ways to engage with Shakespeare through contemporary culture.   In conjunction with the Telegraph Hill Festival and Story Matters we are supporting an exciting new project for young people aged between 14 and 18 from Somerville Youth and Play Provision, which uses modern spoken word techniques and music to explore the language and themes of Shakespeare. Participants will work with theatrical facilitators and some of Lewisham’s cutting edge grime artists to create original, innovative performances. The process will be filmed as a documentary and screened during the festival.