Who better to launch the BFI’s nationwide celebration of the Bard – The BFI Presents Shakespeare on Film – than the actor who has played, on stage and screen, some of his most memorable characters, including Richard III and Macbeth? Today, Ian McKellen was at BFI Southbank, in his role as the chief spokesperson for the project, to discuss both the upcoming events that will pay homage to Shakespeare’s works, and his own experience making Richard III (1995) and how cinema has transformed and re-imagined Shakespeare’s work before and since. McKellen himself will be far more deeply involved in the project than simply making introductions, with plans for him to appear live on stage to present a re-mastered Richard III for UK wide simulcast, as well as hosting London bus tours of Richard III’s iconic locations and opening the Shanghai Film Festival with Shakespeare on Film.
BFI Head Curator Robin Baker was also on hand to introduce this exploration of Shakespeare on film, billed as the biggest ever and which will range from the silent era to present day, marking 400 years since he died. Despite a huge number of events being planned for the UK, the entire programme has an international focus with many films going on tour around the world.
Ian McKellen said “400 years on, Shakespeare’s plays continue to dominate stages worldwide, mostly of course in translation, challenging actors, directors, designers and audiences.
The BFI’s “Shakespeare on Film” is more than just timely, it is a glimpse of the matchless collection of brilliant endeavour from world-beating Shakespeare experts like Laurence Olivier, Peter Brook and Kenneth Branagh whose films have popularised Shakespeare over the years. Their theatre-roots are evident. They have respect for the text and cut lines with regret.
Other directors have successfully translated the stage plays for the screen, aiming, perhaps to make great cinema than great Shakespeare. Here, I relish Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet; Julie Taymor’s Titus Andronicus; Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight, Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood and Ran. And there are more.
I will not be the only one to be grateful to the BFI for their initiative in this anniversary year.”
Some of the highlights of the upcoming programme include:
- Venues and outlets include BFI Southbank (April-May) and UK-wide, newly digitised content on BFI Player, new DVD/Blu-ray releases and film education activity.
- Ian McKellen will present a re-mastered Richard III for UK wide simulcast, as well as hosting London bus tours of Richard III’s iconic shooting locations. The film will be simulcast, in partnership with Park Circus, across UK cinemas on 28 April with a special post-film on-stage discussion between Ian McKellen and director Richard Loncraine live from BFI Southbank. It will also be screened extensively at the BFI, and re-released in a special edition DD/Bluray with new material.
- There will be new 4K restorations of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet and Akira Kurosawa’s Ran.
- Screenings of the ‘landmark films’, including those by Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Roman Polanski and Kenneth Branagh.
- Play On! Shakespeare in Silent Cinema – compilation of silent era filmed performances- premieres at BFI Southbank with new live score by the Musicians of Shakespeare’s Globe.
- Screenings of film’s influenced by Shakespeare or which allow routes into his work, including Disney’s The Lion King and Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho.
- From 1 April until 12 June an exhibition in the Mezzanine Gallery at BFI Southbank will showcase items from multi-award-winning Hamlet (1948) directed by and starring Laurence Olivier.