News broke yesterday that Anne Hathaway has been chosen to play that irksome, brawling scold Kate The Cursed in a modern adaptation of Taming Of The Shrew. As many before me have pointed out, a great modern Taming Of The Shrew already exists. In fact, if you count the great ShakespeaRe-told series, two great modern adaptations already exist and Rufus Sewell’s cross-dressing Petruchio remains a personal favorite.
Perhaps because of Sewell’s imposing physical presence, or because many of the other famous film Petruchios (e.g. Howard Keel or Richard Burton) have been larger men, I always think of Petruchio as a big guy. An arrogant, pushy scam artist who meets his match in Katherine. The casting is tricky, however, and feeds into one of the main concerns that comes with adapting one of Shakespeare’s more problematic plays. Even to perform “Taming Of The Shrew” in a classical context these days requires a lot of clever staging and actorly interpretation. Otherwise you’re left with the story of a violent, horrible woman starved and physically tormented into submission. And don’t get me started on Kate’s final monologue (“place your hands below your husband’s foot,/ In token of which duty, if he please,/ My hand is ready, may it do him ease”). If that speech isn’t performed with tongue fully in cheek, forget about it.
The most generous interpretation of Shakespeare’s play (one that both ShakespeaRe-told and Then Things I Hate About You captured quite nicely) is that here are two difficult
people who behave badly because they’ve never found anyone who truly understood them. Until now. Awww. Some of the “chattel” and “women are made to bear and so are you” language in the original play makes that interpretation harder to swallow, but there we are.
I have no doubt, however, that writer Abi Morgan is equal to the task. Her most high profile project, of course, was the Fassbender sex addiction vehicle Shame. But if you look at the rest of her screenwriting credits (not to mention her theater background), you’ll see she has a penchant for writing strong, interesting ladies e.g. “The Hour“‘s Bel Rowley and Lix Storm or the titular Iron Lady. She’s also got a fascinating film coming soon about Charles Dickens’ secret mistress called The Invisible Woman. So though your mileage may vary on Hathaway’s personality you cannot, after the year she’s had, deny her acting talent. All that remains is to find her the right Petruchio. Here are my top choices.
8. Joseph Morgan: This cat has played the main antagonist on the really great but terribly cheesy “Vampire Diaries” for the past two seasons. He’s also just scored the lead in a spin-off which might sound like a great career move but has me worried. Because this guy has a crazy magnetic screen presence and I’d much prefer to see him in more films than watch him parade around in a series of increasingly preposterous wigs. He’s got a plummy accent and a snarl that won’t quit.
7. Chris Hemsworth: Too close to Ledger? Maybe. I’m also not sure Hemsworth quite has the chops for this kind of performance. But he’d look awfully good trying.
6. David Oyelowo: If you don’t know Oyelowo’s name yet, then you weren’t paying too much attention to the film scene in 2012, were you. This actor was in five films last year including Red Tails, Jack Reacher, The Paperboy and Lincoln. He’s also an accomplished stage performer and has the dubious honor of being the first black actor to play an English king (Henry VI) for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He also played Orlando in Kenneth Branagh’s disappointingly flat As You Like It. So a) impeccable Shakespearean credits b) star on the rise c) devilishly handsome. Yes please.
5. Benjamin Walker: Meryl Streep’s son-in-law certainly has the physical presence. At 6’3” he’s the most towering entrant on this list. He’s also much more talented than that Vampire Hunter movie would indicate.
4. Adam Driver: Of all the TV actors I hope will make a huge splash in the film world, Driver is at the top of the list. Arguably the male lead on HBO’s divisive “Girls,” Driver had an excellent moment last year when he called Dunham’s Hannah out on all her bullsh*t. His verbal facility and completely off-beat looks make him a surprisingly attractive screen presence.
3. Idris Elba: I’ve never seen Elba take on Shakespeare, though “The Wire” often came close. I think, despite the ten years difference, he and Hathaway could generate plenty of heat. After seeing him spar with Ruth Wilson’s Alice Morgan on “Luther,” I think he could do great things with an antagonistic love story.
2. Tom Hardy: Tom Hardy, the rich man’s British Channing Tatum, is objectively the best choice here. He could capture Petruchio’s brutish pomposity with ease and he’s got charm to spare.
1. Michael Fassbender: Naturally, however, because of the Shame connection, my mind went immediately to Fassbender. He played a devilishly great Rochester and I think he could bring a brainy Petruchio that would be a most excellent match for Hathaway.