The acclaimed actor and the BFI made the announcement at a press conference this morning. IMG_2682.JPG

As one of the biggest programmes to celebrate the work of William Shakespeare and how it has been interpreted over the years, the BFI and Sir Ian McKellen will examine how the writer has influenced film makers over the years from silent films to modern day adaptations.

Taking place between the 31st March and 31st of May, Shakespeare on Film will incorporate screenings and events at the BFI Southbank and across the UK, new digitised content available on the BFI player and new DVD releases to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

It was also confirmed today that the BFI was curating an international touring programme of 18 key Shakespeare films that will visit 110 countries including Iraq and Russia as part of Shakespeare Lives – the British Council and GREAT Britain’s programme celebrating Shakespeare’s work and his influence on culture and society.

Talking about the project, Sir Ian McKellen said: “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.”

The actor was at the conference this morning not only to talk about the importance of experiencing Shakespeare on screen, but his own experience of performing it on screen – in particular as Richard III in the 1995.


Spearheading the project, the Lord of the Rings actor will be travelling around the world to present and discuss Shakespeare on Film. He most famously starred in and co-adapted the 1995 film of Richard III, directed and co-adapted by Richard Loncraine and starred Annette Bening, Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent and Robert Downey Jr.

The film itself will be broadcast across UK cinemas, with a special post-film on-stage discussion between Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine live from the BFI Southbank on the 28th April.


BFI Head Curator, Robin Baker said: “At the last count,IMDb lists Shakespeare as the ‘writer’ of 1120 titles. For me the best adaptations of Shakespeare are those that have taken his themes,situations,characters or language and presented them in ways that are purely cinematic.”

Here is what people can expect in more detail about the programme.

Play On! Shakespeare in Silent Cinema – with roughly 500 Shakespeare films being created during the silent era, this new film is compiled with some of the best surviving adaptations held in the BFI National Archive. Clips will include King John (1899 and first Shakespeare film), the earliest appearance of John Gielgud on film in Romeo (1922) and The Tempest (1908). The premiere of this film will feature a score performed live by the Shakespeare’s Globe musicians.

Meanwhile in April, the venue will present Classics such as Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989) and Roman Polanski’s Macbeth (1971).

While in May, attention will turn to Shakespeare Re-imagined , which will wxplore how filmmakers have taken inspiration from the playwright’s work and re-interpreted them for a new audience. Screenings will include a new restoration of George Sidney’s Kiss Me Kate (1953) and Gil Younger’s 10 Things I Hate About You (1999).

While much of the focus will be on film adaptations, there will also be a chance to preview The Hollow Crown, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Gambon on March 29th – due to be broadcast on BBC 2 in April.

Finally, there will also be an exhibition exploring the multi-award winning Hamlet (1948), directed and starring Laurence Olivier, showcasing a number of items from the film. Items will include the original Hamlet costume worn by Olivier and a number of production designs donated by Tracy Granger (daughter of actor Stuart Granger and Jean Simmons).

Shakespeare on film will be taking place at the BFI Southbank from the 31st March to the 31st May 2016.