Silent Shakespeare is a unique and rare opportunity to see seven silent films of Shakespeare plays, collected from around the world and produced between 1899 and 1911. The BFI’s National Television and Film Archive digitally restored the films in 1999 and the screening will be accompanied by a newly composed score by award-winning British composer Laura Rossi performed live by the London Contemporary Orchestra, conducted by Hugh Brunt. Running at St James Theatre, the event will run twice on Sunday 1 December at 14.30 and 19.00.
In 1999 Silent Shakespeare journeyed across the UK, Belfast and Brazil with its critically acclaimed show. The performance now returns to London after more than a decade to continue the London Contemporary Orchestra’s relationship with cinema, having recorded Jonny Greenwood’s score for the Academy Award-nominated film The Master in 2012.
The extremely rare films featured in the show, some of which are the earliest cinematic productions ever committed to celluloid, have been brought together from the USA, the UK and Italy. Surviving over a century, the films represent a few of the adaptations of Shakespeare from the earliest years of cinema. Due to their silent nature the narrative and the drama of the pieces rely on detailed facial expressions and the intertitle structure. The films also include examples of hand stenciling and tinted prints, demonstrating the filmmakers innovation. Together, the works represent Shakespeare’s enduring influence on storytelling and the continued fascination with his plays.
The films chosen for this performance include King John (1899 UK), The Tempest (1908, UK), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1909, USA), King Lear (1910, USA), The Merchant of Venice (1910, Italy) and Richard III (1911, UK).