Here are the starry Shakespeare TV adaptations, comedies, documentaries and radio shows coming out this year. Take a seat…
The big show
Marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (on 23 April 1616), the Royal Shakespeare Company has summoned a galaxy of stars for a variety stage show going out on BBC2 (Saturday 24th April 8.30pm).
“I find more sustenance, more profundity, more compassion, more philosophy and more simple truth in Shakespeare than I’ve ever found in the Bible,” says Gregory Doran, RSC head and the big mind behind Shakespeare Live! The bar is set high, then, for the evening’s hosts David Tennant and Catherine Tate.
Among the stars making a song and dance will be Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Meera Syal, David Suchet, Tim Minchin, Anne Marie Duff, Joseph Fiennes, Rufus Wainwright and Gregory Porter.
Starting on 7 May is BBC2’s Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, the concluding cycle of History Plays (this time Henry VI Parts 1 and 2 and Richard III). Filmed in windswept castles and muddy open fields, these 15th-century struggles for England’s throne are bloodier than Game of Thrones, more poisonous than House of Cards.
A humpbacked Benedict Cumberbatch is literature’s greatest villain, Richard III. Acting royalty — from Judi Dench to Hugh Bonneville, Sophie Okonedo and Keeley Hawes — is on display.
Writer Ben Elton returns in May to the codpiece comedy sphere of Blackadder with his new series, Upstart Crow (BBC2), about one Will Shakespeare (David Mitchell) and his life in Stratord-upon-Avon.
Liza Tarbuck plays his unimpressed wife, Anne Hathaway, and Harry Enfield plays his dad. Despite chopping an hour from the original, Doctor Who’s Russell T Davies swears he’s been respectful with his A Midsummer Night’s Dream for BBC1 in May. And who could object to Matt Lucas as Bottom and Maxine Peake as magical Titania?
There’s treasure to discover in Arena: Shakespeare on Film (Sunday 9pm BBC4), including stunning clips of Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles in front of and behind the camera. Six Juliets of diversity (large, small, deaf, wheelchair-using) reinterpret the role of the tragic lover in Redefining Juliet (early May BBC4). A Countryfile special (Sunday BBC1 7pm) maps the landscapes of the Bard’s greatest works from the Forest of Arden to Birnam Wood.
A highlight of the anniversary takeover of Radio 3 this weekend is Robert Lindsay in A Play for the Heart: The Death of Shakespeare (Sunday 24th April 9pm), a new drama imagining the playwright’s last day. More new radio productions to look forward to in May include a King Lear with Ian McDiarmid and The Wolf in the Water, a new play by Naomi Alderman about Shylock’s daughter.