Silent Shakespeare


As part of our Shakespeare on  Screen Season at Cornwall Film Festival we are going to be exhibiting a unique collection of seven early Shakespeare adaptations made between 1899 and 1911 remastered from the only known surviving materials – Presenting Silent Shakespeare!

Cinema’s love affair with Shakespeare dates from the earliest days of film. In its infancy film was regarded as a rather lowbrow medium, and the budding film industry attempted to elevate its cultural status by imitating the theatre. Adapting the works of Shakespeare was the filmmakers’ greatest challenge, especially since films at that time – before WWI – tended to be only one or two reels long.

‘Watching them – hearing the cellos and violins, the piano solos – becomes a dream-like experience’ – Nicci Gerrard, The Observer.

The seven films in this unique collection – from Britain, Italy and the USA – are created from the only known surviving materials, nitrate prints preserved by the BFI’s National Archive. They include beautiful examples of hand stencilling and tinted prints. There is a magical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream containing some remarkable special effects, a charming five-minute film of The Tempest, and the very first Shakespeare film ever made, King John, in 1899. This unique and fascinating record shows us the exuberance, invention and conviction of these early filmmakers and demonstrates the possibility of the Shakespearean text.

‘Fascinating! Painstakingly restored…A priceless document in the history of both Shakespearean acting and the cinema’ – Daily Telegraph.

The complete collection, accompanied by a specially commissioned score by award-winning young composer Laura Rossi. Scored for Piano, String Quartet and Acoustic Guitar.‘Laura Rossi has composed a hauntingly atmospheric accompaniment to the seven Silent Shakespeare’s featured on this tape. Under Rossi’s direction,   the mood sweeps through a spectrum of spine-tingling emotions, encapsulating the drama and poetry of each tale.’ – British Film Institute.

‘an attractive collection… vigorous… charming…’, – Sir Richard Eyre

  • King John (UK, 1899)
  • The Tempest (UK, 1908)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (USA, 1909)
  • King Lear (Italy, 1910)
  • Twelfth Night (USA, 1910)
  • The Merchant of Venice (Italy, 1910)
  • Richard III (UK, 1911)

Total Running Time: 88mins

Event Details Coming Soon!


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