In the never-ending effort to make Shakespeare "relevant" and "accessible," it never hurts to enlist celebrities for the hard sell.
"Shakespeare Uncovered," a six-part documentary series that begins airing Friday on PBS, boasts an abundance of famous faces. The series is hosted by the likes of Jeremy Irons, Ethan Hawke and Joely Richardson, and features interviews with Helen Mirren, Jude Law and Vanessa Redgrave, who is Richardson's mother.
The series contemplates a handful of Shakespeare's plays, visiting stage productions past and present, as well as several filmed adaptations. On the first installment (airing in Los Angeles at 9 p.m. Friday on KOCE), Hawke explores "Macbeth," a play that he says that he has always wanted to perform. In the second hour (at 10 p.m. Friday on KOCE), Richardson surveys Shakespeare's comedies, focusing on "As You Like It" and "Twelfth Night."
"Shakespeare Uncovered" presents rare footage from some renowned productions, including the 1963 TV adaptation of "As You Like It" starring Redgrave as Rosalind. Redgrave's performance is considered by many to be one of the best interpretations of the role.
Richardson said she had only seen brief clips of her mother's Rosalind before making the documentary.
"It's sort of astonishing, her mastery of text," said Richardson on the phone from London. "The production was totally modern, whereas some of the old footage of other productions that I saw, you can tell that there were of their time."
Richardson appeared with her mother in the 2011 movie "Anonymous," which centers on the debate of Shakespearean authorship.
"I think there is a question mark there," said Richardson. But ultimately, "the only thing that matters is the work. To me personally, if it was one man, a committee of four, whatever, he will always be Shakespeare."
"Shakespeare Uncovered" will air over three consecutive Fridays. Irons will appear on Feb. 1 in an episode focusing on the historical plays "Henry IV, Parts I and II" and "Henry V."
Irons stars in a new TV adaptation of the former two plays, directed by Richard Eyre, expected to air on PBS' "Great Performances" this year. (The movie is part of a TV trilogy called "The Hollow Crown" that includes "Richard II" and Henry V," which has already aired on the BBC.)
The Oscar-winning actor said that performing Shakespeare on screen versus on stage differs in one key respect -- the lack of rehearsal time for screen productions.
"You may do a camera rehearsal, and then you just have to be there. I worked for a month at that text just getting it in," Irons said in an interview in Pasadena, where he was promoting the series during the recent Television Critics Assn. tour.
The series also features episodes devoted to "Richard II," hosted by Shakespearean veteran Derek Jacobi; "Hamlet," hosted by David Tennant, who played the role to great acclaim at the Royal Shakespeare Co.; and "The Tempest," hosted by director Trevor Nunn.
Richard Denton, the series' producer, said in an interview he would like to film another six episodes for next year, to coincide with the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth.
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