The works of William Shakespeare have been brought to life on screen countless times.
Born in April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, the English poet, playwright and actor went on to become widely regarded as the world’s greatest dramatist.
Shakespeare’s 39 plays have been translated into every major living language and they’re still performed more often than those of any other playwright.
There have been 410 movie and TV adaptations of his plays, according to the Guinness Book of Records, and IMDB lists Shakespeare as having a writing credit on 1,371 films, dating way back to a filmed production of King John in 1899.
It’s surprising, then, that there have been so few movies made about the Bard himself!
To mark the release of Sir Kenneth Branagh’s All is True on DVD, we’ve put together a list of the five best movies about the life of William Shakespeare:
All Is True
Exploring the human story behind a dark and little known period in the life of William Shakespeare, this 2019 movie is directed by Kenneth Branagh (Henry V) and written by Upstart Crow creator Ben Elton.
All is True begins in 1613 as Shakespeare decides to return to his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon and face his neglected family after his beloved Globe Theatre is burned to the ground.
Branagh leads the cast as Shakespeare, alongside Dame Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul) as his wife Anne and Sir Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings) as the Earl of Southampton.
Reviews called All is True a “soothing tale of family secrets and festering resentments” (NY Times) and praised Branagh’s performance as “a triumph of ferocity and feeling that shuns Shakespeare the literary rock star to find the flawed, touchingly human man inside” (Rolling Stone).
This controversial 2011 movie was directed by Roland Emmerich – yep, the director of Independence Day and Godzilla!
Anonymous focuses on the life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who was an an Elizabethan courtier, playwright, poet and patron of the arts.
Starring Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill) as de Vere and Vanessa Redgrave (Atonement) as Queen Elizabeth I, the film suggests that he was the actual author of William Shakespeare’s plays.
Reviews pointed out that “the more Anonymous stops and tries to convince the audience of its half-baked theory, the less convincing it becomes” (Roger Ebert), with the New Yorker adding that “the more far-fetched the idea, it seems, the more strenuous the effort to pass it off as authentic.”
Taking itself a lot less seriously is this family-friendly comedy adventure movie from 2015.
From the creators and stars on the hugely popular kids TV series Horrible Histories, Bill is an openly fictional look at the young William Shakespeare’s search for fame and fortune during his “lost years.”
Joining the Horrible Histories regulars are Helen McCrory (Harry Potter) as Queen Elizabeth and Damian Lewis (Homeland) as Sir Richard Hawkins.
Reviews described Bill as “a very funny, if derivative panto-ish romp about the early life of Shakespeare” (The Guardian) with “jokes that should play just as well to intelligent children and immature adults” (The Telegraph).
Shakespeare in Love
From the director of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Mrs Brown this romantic period comedy-drama won an impressive seven Oscars following its release in 1998.
Shakespeare in Love is set in 1593 and shows an imaginary love affair between William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) taking place while Shakespeare writes Romeo and Juliet.
The movie plays loosely with the truth, but reviewers enjoyed this “rom-com with added smarts for the literature scholars, which doesn’t alienate everyone else” (Empire), adding that Madden “makes Shakespeare accessible , entertaining and fun for modern audiences” (Variety).
A Waste of Shame
Most notably featuring a young Tom Hiddleston as Shakespeare’s son-in-law John Hall, this BBC TV movie aired in 2005.
The 90-minute drama explores the circumstances surrounding William Shakespeare’s composition of his sonnets.
Sherlock actor Rupert Graves stars as William Shakespeare, alongside Indira Varma (Game of Thrones), Zoë Wanamaker (Harry Potter) and Anna Chancellor (Four Weddings and a Funeral).
Amazon users enjoyed that A Waste of Shame is “very down-to-earth compared with Hollywood’s rendering of Shakespeare’s life” and that “Rupert Graves makes a totally believable Shakespeare, making him a human being of his time.”