Top 10 Performances in a Shakespeare Play or Film

Today’s William Shakespeare’s birthday and I am celebrating by throwing a big birthday bash for the Bard and offering a 25% discount on all of my handmade Shakespeare jewelry.

Shakespeare Jewelry

Click here to see my full collection of William Shakespeare Jewelry

I also thought it would be fun to count down my Top 10 Performances in a William Shakespeare play or film.  Here are my favorites:


Alan Cummings – Macbeth

I was fortunate enough to see Alan Cumming’s one-man production of the “Scottish play” for my birthday a few years back. The production was creepy and fascinating and Alan Cumming’s production was nothing short of memorizing. Despite the staggering amount of stamina and emotion that the part demanded, Cummings’ commitment and intensity never flagged and his portrayal of MacBeth, full of sound, fury, and madness, was unforgettable.



You can read my review of the play here.


Mel Gibson – Hamlet

I don’t know if we realized it at the time but Mel Gibson had all the qualities necessary to portray the moody Prince Hamlet with just the right mix of good looks, charm, talent, and being more than a little troubled.



Emma Thompson – Beatrice

Although there have been some wonderful productions of Much Ado About Nothing, (one of my favorite Shakespeare plays), Emma Thompson is the quintessential Beatrice and captures the wit and sassiness of this wonderful heroine so beautifully.


Nathan Fillion – Dogberry

There was a lot to love in Joss Whedon’s recent adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing but Nathan Fillion’s performance as the hilariously incompetent Dogberry is one of the best things about the film. Rather than take the role over the top into the realm of slapstick, Fillion played Dogberry’s buffoonery in such a way that it reminded me of far too many people I knew in real life.


Stanley Tucci – Puck

In a film with an amazing cast full of stars, Stanley Tucci’s performance as the merry trickster, Puck, stands out. I am a big Stanley Tucci fan and love almost everything I have ever seen him in but his performance as Puck is one of my favorites.



Kevin Klein – Bottom

Another highlight of the Much Ado About Nothing film was Keven Klein as Bottom. Klein’s portrayal made Bottom the ultimate ex-boyfriend – the sort of loud, braying ass that you are embarrassed to admit you fell for but with just enough charm that you can kinda see why you did. But my favorite part of the performance was the wistful glance he gives a statue of Titania after the night was over, acknowledging how magical the moment they had together was for him and mourning how it was over.


Kenneth Branagh – Iago

To be honest, I could have put Kenneth Branagh on this list several times over by now. He has acted in and directed so many wonderful Shakespeare adaptations. His performance of Benedict opposite Emma Thomspon’s Beatrice was amazing. And there’s this speech:


But my favorite Branagh performance is as Iago in Othello. Branagh plays the two-faced villain so perfectly that it becomes all too easy to see how Othello could fall victim to his treachery and betrayal.


Baz Lurhmann

Among Shakespeare fans, Baz Lurhmann is well-known for giving us the manic, modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.



Although this production is one of the more polarizing adaptations I know of, it isn’t the reason I included him on this list. Instead, it’s Moulin Rouge that has earned Lurhmann his space here. While it’s not an adaptation of any specific play and I have never heard Lurhmann say that he had Shakespeare in mind when creating the film, I have never seen a modern story so perfectly fit the mold that Shakespeare created for his own plays. From the sad prologue opening of a Feste – like Toulouse singing Nature Boy to the play within a play structure, it is a tale of star cross’d lovers, mistaken identities, poetry and tragedy and comedy provided by the Falstaffian Harold Zidler all mixed together, Moulin Rouge play like a lost Shakespeare play, at least in my humble opinion.


Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey – Romeo and Juliet

The first production I ever saw of any Shakepeare play was the Franco Zeffirelli film of Romeo and Juliet starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. My mother rented it for me on my 13th birthday and I instantly developed an insane crush of Leonard Whiting’s Romeo and a life-long love of Shakespeare.


The entire cast of Shakespeare In Love

Although I originally intended to limit this list to adaptions and performances of actual plays and not open it up to movies based on Shakespeare and his plays, I really couldn’t leave Shakespeare in Love off the list. The entire film is a Shakespeare fan’s delight and had some amazing performances in it. I particularly loved Geoffrey Rush as the theatre owner, Mr. Henslowe and Ben Affleck as Ned Alleyn (and Mercutio). My only problem with the film is that I am not used to looking at Colin Firth as the guy that I don’t want the girl to end up with! After so many years of crushing on his Mr. Darcy, I have trouble getting my head around the concept. But Judi Dench’s hilarious performances a Elizabeth I more than makes up for that one minor little problem.



I hope you enjoyed my Top Ten Shakespeare Play and Movie Performances and I would love to hear from you! Which Shakespeare plays are your favorite and what performances, productions, and films would you add to the list? Leave a comment and let me know.

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4 Responses to Top 10 Performances in a Shakespeare Play or Film

  1. Great picks! I recently watched Much Ado About Nothing and I loved it. Nathan Fillion was a great character, but the whole premise was funny. Just the modern day setting was very different and amusing.

  2. Thanks May! I agree that the most recent Much Ado About Nothing film was beautifully done. I can’t believe how they did it in a matter of weeks, using Joss Whedon’s home as the set! It looks far too polished for that!!

  3. What a lovely post!(and awesome jewellery too!)
    I work in the English department of a school so it’s all about Shakespeare and various adaptations!
    I think we have a comic book version around somewhere too which is pretty fab!
    I forgot Shakespeare in love even existed, I’m sure I have it on dvd somewhere, I may have to dig it out tonight now! 🙂

    • Thank you Jicsi! What a great job you have to be surrounded by so much great literature! A comic book version of Shakespeare sounds really cool. I remember seeing a comic version of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and it was so beautifully done that I can only imagine what a comic artist could do with the Bard!

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