Adapting a play is no mean feat.
Live theatre is an impossible experience to replicate and there have been many – many – instances where a film adaptation has not only failed to capture the magic, but actually ruined the original play by even trying to (looking at you, Cats). In recent years, theatre has taken inspiration from Hollywood for adaptations (think: Legally Blonde and Shrek) but for a long time, it was the other way around.
While there are instances like Cats, there are some film adaptations that have taken texts meant for the stage and transformed them into feats of filmmaking. In fact, in a few instances, the film adaptation has gone on to eclipse the play in notoriety.
The latest play to be successfully adapted by Hollywood is the iconic Noel Coward piece, Blythe Spirit. Streaming on Amazon Prime from April 2, it stars our own Isla Fisher in an ensemble cast that includes the likes of Dame Judi Dench and Leslie Mann. The British comedy follows a writer (Dan Stevens) who decides to fix his writer’s block by asking a spiritualist medium (Dench) to perform a seance. When she accidentally summons his dead first wife, comedy ensues as the resulting love triangle with his current wife becomes increasingly complex.
To celebrate the release of Blythe Spirit, we’ve rounded up the best film adaptations of plays for you to consider watching this long weekend.
It’s a little known fact that Moonlight writer/director Barry Jenkins adapted the film from an unpublished, unproduced play named In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. The Academy Award-winning movie is so cinematic that it’s hard to believe it was meant for any other kind of medium than film, but knowing it started as a play text allows for a deeper appreciation of the soul the film has.
Romeo + Juliet
What do you get when Baz adapts the Bard? A technicolour 90s nostalgia dreamscape, that’s what. The Baz Luhrmann directed 1996 film is now one of – if not the – most referenced adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, with too many iconic scenes to count. From the first sighting through a fish tank, to the elevator kiss and Mercutio’s performance of Young Hearts Run Free, to musical masterpieces like Des’ree singing Kissing You and Quindon Tarver’s cover of When Doves Cry, it creates new moments to love from a beloved text. With a young Leonardo Di Caprio starring opposite Claire Danes in the titular roles, it is simply *chefs kiss*.
Angels In America
Tony Kushner’s 1991 two-part play on AIDS and homosexuality in 1980s America was a cultural revelation; it won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, nine Tony Awards and is broadly considered a turning point in queer representation and American drama. Directed by Mike Nichols, the 2003 film adaptation is technically a miniseries but it’s epic enough that it warrants mention on this list. Starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, it’s just as astonishing as the play.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
As one of Tennessee Williams’ most celebrated plays, the film adaptation had a lot to live up to. But with a cast that included Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Burt Ives, it delivered. The film captures all of the sensuality, passion and toughness of the original play, leaving behind a truly memorable adaptation to celebrate.
There are plenty of adaptations of Annie (including a 2014 film one that shall not be mentioned on this list), but the 1982 film starring OG Broadway icons Bernadette Peters and Carol Burnett as Ms Hannigan is all-time. A childhood staple for many, it transformed the play into a film that sparkles with warmth, joy and cheek.
Considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, Casablanca began as a play titled Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Joan Alison and Murray Burnett that was released on the eve of America entering World War II. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the film is a testament to the power that film adaptations can have if done right.