‘The Lion King’, ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’, ‘Romeo Juliet’ - all Shakespearian adaptations, written and directed for a younger audience. Another film that fits this description is the 2006 ‘She’s the Man’ - a modernised interpretation of ‘The Twelfth Night’. The story, set in Illyria High School, still tells the tale of Viola, our protagonist, dressing as her twin brother, Sebastian - though in this version, it’s to play football, rather than to get a job. Being originally written approximately four hundred years ago, it’s no surprise that Shakespeare’s plays, like most historical works of fiction, tend to be a little unsympathetic towards the female gender. A modern retelling not only allows for a younger and wider audience to connect with the amazing stories of The Bard, but also permits a few updates to his original, sometimes outdated, attitudes.
In the original script, it is unclear as to whether Viola, the Duke Orsino, who Olivia works for when disguised, or even Olivia – the woman who Orsino is besotted with, is the protagonist of the play. Like many Shakespeare’s works, it is likely that the audience are provided with multiple leading men and women. However, ‘She’s The Man’ makes a different choice, Viola being the obvious subject of the film. As well as providing enough originally for the movie to stand-be a successful entity in its own right - i.e., you don’t have to have read Shakespeare to ‘get it’ - it still provides constant nods to the original. For one, the first Duke Orsino is presented as an eloquent man, confident in his ability to speak to, and charm, women. Channing Tatum’s Duke, is surprisingly incredibly shy around girls, asking Sebastian (who’s really Viola), to talk to Olivia (his crush) for him. Another is that whilst the modernised character of Olivia’s servant Malvolio is a scarily obsessive boy named Malcolm, this character does, in fact, own a pet spider, who shares a name with its owners origin. My favourite reference to the text, however, would have to be the opening of the film. In Shakespeare’s version - the scene where the audience first meet Viola is on the beach, following the sinking of her ship. In ‘She’s The Man’ we are given the view of a beach- but rather than seeing Viola wracked with despair. She is, in fact, completely destroying an opposing football team. This joyful scene not only sets a tone for the following movie, but also presents the clear aims of the writers. Our main character is Viola, and she is strong.
Retellings of occasionally problematic stories can be a great thing. An upcoming example is the film ‘Rosaline’, a different approach to ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Rosaline, in The Bard’s primary telling, is the girl who Romeo is desperately in love with - until he meets her cousin, Juliet. In the first act of the play, Rosaline isn’t even given a single line, which may just be corrected. This version not only gives us the unsung story of the mysterious girl but also shows how ridiculously unhealthy the relationship between Romeo and Juliet is. Yet, for some strange reason, it is worshipped as the epitome of romance. Performerss such as Felicity Jones, and Emilia Clarke, are rumoured to have joined the cast of this upcoming teen comedy. Hopefully their popularity as actors will allow for a high profile movie, being as successful as ‘She’s The Man.