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Romeo and Juliet
(Time - September 9, 1996)

Shakespeare: The Old Jane Austen, Time Magazine School begins, and hollywood hits the books. Keeping on eye on the Motion Picture Association membership and the other on the gueard dogs of media morality, studios are releasing movies from the works of Henry James (Portrait of a Lady) and Thomas Hardy (Jude, as in The Obscure). The film industry has always loved the classics: they're pedigreed, they're passionate, they're public domain. But a few long-dead writers must have great agents-- they get their names in the title. Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespeare, it turns out, doesn't need CAA. As if to say, "So there, Jane Austen!", the Bard is back in maximum force. There are two films based on Romeo and Juliet: one using the text but transplated to a Miami-esque beach town; the other, Love is All There Is, set in the Bronx and retold by writer-directors Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor. Royal Shakespeare Company alumnus Trevor Nunn has a Twelfth Night starring Helena Bonham Carter and Nigel Hawthorne. Richard III, recently modded up by Ian McKellen, get the Al Pacino treatment in Looking for Richard.

But all bow before Kenneth Branagh, Shakespeare's most doting a dogged courtier. Last year he played Iago to Laurence Fishburne's Othello and Made a film, A Midwinter's Tale, about doing Hamlet in the provinces. This year he directs and Stars in Hamlet-- every word of Shakespeare's longest play--and has cast it with nearly ever tony Brit actor (Derek Jacobi, John Gielgud, Kate Winslet, Rosemary Harris) but Emma Thompson. There are also some ringers: robin Williams, Jack Lemmon and Billy Crystal. How do you say shtick in Elizabethan English?

© 1996, Time