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Shakespeare Lives on Film - live from today!

  • Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet

Kenneth Branagh's 1996 'Hamlet' is one of 18 features in our global Shakespeare tour

Throughout 2016

We're kicking off our most ambitious film programme ever - Shakespeare Lives on Film - which will reach audiences in 110 countries this year.

The film tour is part of the larger Shakespeare Lives project, which will see the British Council  celebrating Shakespeare as a living icon on the 400th anniversary of his death.

Our key partner on the project is the British Film Institute (BFI) which has curated a vast programme billed as BFI Presents Shakespeare on Film, which will start life at our flagship national cinemateque, BFI Southbank, before embarking on a UK tour. Also taking part are the GREAT campaign, Park Circus, and Film London.

Activity ranges from single films shown in British Embassies, schools and English language teaching centres, to extensive film programmes in partner cinemas, as part of festivals, and at grand scale outdoor events. Many of the international events will be offered free of charge so will be widely accessible to a variety of audiences from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe!

Richard III star Ian McKellen will attend the Shanghai International Film Festival’s opening night on June 11 and take part in a special on-stage event at the festival on June 12. Plans for McKellen and other profile guests to travel to other countries as part of the tour will be announced soon.

Here are just a few highlights of the global plans for Shakespeare Lives on Film just announced:

  • Slovenia will launch the first official international screenings in February with Henry V (1944), Polanski’s Macbeth (1979) Jarman’s The Tempest (1979) and Hickox’s Theatre of Blood (1973)
  • Brazil is creating ‘Shakespeare House’ at the Paraty International Literary Festival (FLIP) in late June which will showcase the BFI curated films
  • A programme of large scale event screenings is being developed in Cuba
  • In the US, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, will be featuring highlights of the programme this autumn
  • Cinemas and outdoor locations in Iraq, including a refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), will use the universal themes found in Shakespeare film adaptations to highlight the humanitarian situation
  • In East Asia, international film festivals and archives including Shanghai and Hong Kong will present the programme from April to June
  • Poland will present Play On! Shakespeare in Silent Cinema with local live music accompaniment at an open-air screening as part of Wrocław European Capital of Culture, and the BFI curated films will screen throughout the year
  • On Midsummer Night (June 21) Russia will present a large scale summer festival dedicated to Shakespeare in one of Moscow’s central parks
  • Italy will be exploring the rich connection between Shakespeare’s plays and Italian locations by screening films in 20 cities and organising a series of high profile events
  • Greece will present 'Shakespeare in the City’ in partnership with the Athens International Film Festival, including open air screenings in archaeological sites, squares and parks
  • Further plans to be announced shortly include programmes i n m any other many other countries including India, Egypt and across sub-Saharan Africa


The 18 British films curated for the international programme show how diverse filmmakers have brought Shakespeare to life in myriad ways on the big screen. They are:

  • All Night Long (Basil Dearden, 1961)
  • The Angelic Conversation (Derek Jarman, 1985)
  • Hamlet (Laurence Olivier, 1948)
  • Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh, 1996)
  • Henry V (Laurence Olivier, 1944)
  • Henry V (Kenneth Branagh, 1989)
  • King Lear (Peter Brook, 1971)
  • Macbeth (Roman Polanski, 1971)
  • Much Ado About Nothing (Kenneth Branagh, 1993)
  • Next [short]  (Barry Purves, 1989)
  • Othello (Oliver Parker, 1995)
  • Play On! Shakespeare in Silent Cinema - a new compilation of shorts from the BFI National Archive
  • Prospero’s Books (Peter Greenaway, 1991)
  • Richard III (Richard Loncraine, 1995)
  • Romeo and Juliet (Franco Zeffirelli, 1968)
  • The Tempest (Derek Jarman, 1979)
  • Theatre of Blood (Douglas Hickox,1973)

The programme also includes filmed theatre: Maxine Peake's Hamlet (Manchester Royal Exchange) As You Like It (NT Live), Coriolanus (NT Live), Hamlet (The Barbican Theatre), and King Lear (NT Live).

Briony Hanson, Director of Film, British Council, said: “We are thrilled to present a selection of work from a tour of classic British feature films to a programme of newly commissioned shorts by female creative teams, in partnership with Film London, that all demonstrate Shakespeare’s enduring relevance as source material.  The Shakespeare on Film tour will be the most ambitious touring film programme that the British Council has ever offered and our aim is to ensure that Shakespeare Lives in each of the 110 countries in our network.”

Enjoy a trailer for Shakespeare Lives In Film here


Stay tuned to the British Council’s film website and our Twitter feed (@British_Film) for programme details, blogs, essays and news of events throughout the year as we follow Shakespeare's journey around the globe.