How do you make Shakespeare more accessible to modern audiences? Lose the tights. That’s the strategy used in “Coriolanus,” opening Friday. Ralph Fiennes directed, adapted and stars in this take on a little-known, incredibly violent work by the Bard. In the original play, Roman general Caius Marcius Coriolanus is betrayed by his friends. As one does, he then turns against Rome and leads an assault on the city. Fiennes moved the action to an unnamed, modern-day country but kept the language. It’s technique often used to bring Shakespeare to the big screen, as seen in these other adaptations.
Richard III (1995): One of the best modern settings of Shakespeare, this movie brings the play to pre-WWII Britain and adds Nazis. Ian McKellen plays the hunchbacked king who lets nothing (including two little boys who precede him to the throne) stand in his way. Especially notable is Annette Bening’s performance as Queen Elizabeth, to whom Richard proposes over her husband’s casket — the husband that he had killed. The modern setting reminds audiences that such an unquenchable thirst for power isn’t a historical anomaly and can show up anywhere, at any time.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Baz Luhrmann’s frenetic retelling of the story of teenagers doomed for lack of texting (it would have been more practical than waiting on a monk to deliver a letter) is so effective that actual high schoolers like it. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes imbue the title characters with the naïveté that comes with first love and the stubborn, I-know-I’m-right mentality that comes with being a teen. Some of the best moments, though, are the little winks Luhrmann adds to the text — guns are named after the play’s original weapons (Tybalt carries a 9mm “Rapier”), and the service that fails to get that letter to Romeo is a telegram service named “Post Haste.”
Hamlet (2000): Ethan Hawke, above, is the melancholy Dane in this uneven adaptation, which moves the entire setting to New York, makes Elsinore castle a hotel and puts Claudius (Kyle Mac-Lachlan) in charge of the “Denmark Corporation.” Bringing the tragedy into a modern setting allowed Hawke to make his Hamlet more active and accessible to modern audiences, who often wonder why the prince doesn’t just quit monologuing and do something.