Theatre News

Ian McKellen launches BFI Shakespeare on Film series

The programme involves a 110 country international tour and onstage interviews with the cast of ”The Hollow Crown”

Ian McKellen
Ian McKellen
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

The BFI, Ian McKellen and the British Council have today announced details of Shakespeare on Film, the biggest ever programme of the bard's work on film.

The season will explore how filmmakers have adapted, been inspired by and interpreted Shakespeare's work for the big screen. Some of the highlights include:

Events at BFI Southbank

Events taking place at the BFI Southbank kick off on 31 March with the premiere of Play On! Shakespeare in Silent Cinema with the score performed live by the Shakespeare’s Globe musicians. Various screenings throughout the following months include:

April: A focus on the Classics brought to life with a new 4K restoration, including:

• Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948)
• Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989)
• Roman Polanski’s Macbeth (1971)
• Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968)

May: Shakespeare Re-imagined will explore how filmmakers have taken inspiration from Shakespeare’s texts and re-interpreted them. Screenings include:

• A newly re-mastered All Night Long (Basil Dearden, 1961) set in the London jazz world and inspired by Othello.
• A new restoration in 3D of George Sidney’s musical Kiss Me Kate (1953) and Gil Younger’s 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) starring Heath Ledger – both based on The Taming of the Shrew.
• Derek Jarman’s The Angelic Conversation (1985) featuring Shakespeare’s Sonnets read by Judi Dench.
• Fred M Wilcox’s Forbidden Planet (1956) puts a sci-fi spin on The Tempest.
The Lion King (Roger Allers/Rob Minkoff, 1994) gives younger audiences a route into Hamlet.


In March there will be previews of The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, Henry VI part 1 & 2, with on-stage cast and crew interviews. The series stars Hugh Bonneville, Sophie Okonedo, Michael Gambon and Benedict Cumberbatch and is due to be broadcast on BBC Two in April.


18 key British Shakespeare films will tour to 110 countries, kicking off in Slovenia on Wednesday with screenings of Henry V (1944), Polanski’s Macbeth (1979) Jarman’s The Tempest (1979) and Hickox’s Theatre of Blood (1973). The tour will visit locations including a refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, central parks in Moscow and various locations in Cuba.

McKellen starred alongside Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent and Robert Downey Jr in Richard Loncraine's adaptation of Richard III (1995), and will spearhead the project, travelling around the world to present and discuss Shakespeare on Film. He will also host public but tours of the iconic film locations around London.

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 events taking place around the globe include:

Brazil: 'Shakespeare House' at the Paraty International Literary Festival in June.
USA: Screenings at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in autumn.
Asia: Events at the East Asia international film festivals including Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Poland: Play On! Shakespeare in Silent Cinema with local live music accompaniment as part of Wrocław European Capital of Culture.
Italy: A series of high profile events including screenings in 20 cities to explore the connection between Shakespeare's plays and Italian locations.
Greece: Shakespeare in the City, a series of open air screenings in archaeological sites, squares and parks in partnership with the Athens International Film Festival


Thanks to National Lottery funding, many rare Shakespearean film and television titles in the BFI National Archive are being made available to audiences nationwide including the first televised Shakespeare to feature a black actor as Othello, and Penny Woolcock’s ambitious re-staging of the Scottish Play on Birmingham's Ladywood estate – Macbeth on the Estate (1997).

Hamlet exhibition

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, including the original costume worn by Olivier.


The BFI is collaborating with various partners and organisations to provide a way into teaching Shakespeare through film. These include a focus on diverse audiences with actors Hugh Quarshie and Bert Caesar leading a discussion around black Shakespeare, and historian Judith Buchanan leading an education event on Silent Shakespeare in May.