As a former English Lit major, I must admit that I’m somewhat of a classicist – I love those drafty old novels that made their way into the literary cannon. Shakespeare, Faulkner, Joyce . . . I read them all. For fun.
And while I feel as protective of them as a mama bird with her eggs – and thus should probably scoff at and reject any adaptation that strays even the slightest from the original text – I have to admit that sometimes I enjoy modern retellings of these classic tales. Like the movie Clueless. Sure it’s a silly 90’s teen flick, but it’s also an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. Here we're able to watch high school teen queen Cher struggle with the same issues as her 19th century counterpart. But, you know, with cell phones and credit cards.
I think it’s interesting to see these stories that we revere and study in school in a new context. To see them taken a little less seriously. Some might call these retellings irreverent, some say they’re pandering, but at the end of the day, I just think they’re fun. Here are a few you might (or might not) have recognized:
- Cruel Intentions – Based on Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses
- She’s All That – Based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion
- Bridget Jones’s Diary – Based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
- Never Been Kissed – Based on Shakespeare’s As You Like It
- She’s The Man – Based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
- Ten Things I Hate About You – Based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew
- West Side Story – Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
[Clearly Shakespeare is a favorite of modern storytellers.]
Did you recognize any of them? Some of them are a bit more, uh, freely adapted than others. Here are five more - the five that I consider my favorite modern retellings. Check them out:
My Fair Lady –
It’s George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion set in Edwardian London. It’s got musical numbers, and dancing, elocution lessons and, of course, the incomparable Audrey Hepburn. It won eight Oscars and danced its way into the hearts of movie-viewers worldwide.
The Lion King –
The one and only animated movie to make my list, Disney’s The Lion King is a wonderful retelling of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It's got catchy songs and beautiful depictions of the planes of Africa. Not to mention anthropomorphic animals struggling for power and to find their rightful place in the animal kingdom. It does Shakespeare proud.
Scotland, PA. –
If there’s a more bizarre combination than Shakespeare and fast food restaurants, I don’t know what it is. And yet somehow it works. Macbeth is my favorite Shakespeare play, and this is my favorite of its adaptations.
Easy A –
Puritan Massachusetts, the setting of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, was a ruthless and vicious place. So what better than to re-imagine it in modern day high school - the most ruthless and vicious place there is. It gets an easy A+ in my book.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? –
Last but not least, from the brilliant mind of the Coen brothers comes Homer’s The Odyssey set in 1930’s Mississippi. It is my all-time favorite modern retelling, and one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. Best line ever – "Well, ain't this place a geographical oddity. Two weeks from everywhere."
Are you a fan of seeing you favorite classics retold in a modern setting, with modern problems and situations? What are some of your favorites?