Got an hour? Get Shakespeare’s Women & Claire Bloom (it’s available on Netflix). There’s nothing earth-shattering about it, but it’s enjoyable. Actress Claire Bloom, now in her 80s, played many (most?) of Shakespeare’s great female roles opposite leading men like Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton. The 1999 video is a mix of her commentary on the various female characters and reminiscing about playing them on stage and film.
Current recitals are intermixed with video from her performances back in the day. There are also a few clips from silent Shakespeare, including the only existing video of the famous Sarah Bernhardt in performance — playing Hamlet!
She packs quite a lot into just an hour. Some highlights include her discussion of playing Lady Anne in Richard III and how she is often asked if she found it difficult playing a character seduced by her husband’s murderer at the coffin… her response: “It’s easy if it’s Olivier!” She talks about how Juliet is no English virgin, but a very sexual 14-year-old Italian woman waiting with excitement to enjoy her wedding night. “It’s most wonderfully put by Shakespeare — who knew everything about everybody — and knew everything about a 14-year-old waiting for her wedding night!”
Bloom touches on Portia in the Merchant of Venice, Rosalind in As You Like It… she finds it amazing and intriguing that these roles were played by young male actors in Shakespeare’s day. Boys playing girls playing boys and even further convolutions. And beyond that, even the older female roles being played by boys — Bloom ponders what this was like to see.
Bloom played Ophelia in Stratford-upon-Avon at age 17, and then reprised the role at the Old Vic at age 22 with Burton as Hamlet. Later, she played Gertrude and was surprised to find the older woman a much more interesting role.
She talks about Imogen in Cymbeline, Volumnia in Coriolanus, Lady Constance in King John, and Katherine of Aragon in Henry VIII. Finally she describes Emilia’s speech to Ophelia about men… she finds Emilia ironic, accepting, funny, and thoroughly modern.
Bloom, who continues to act (she was Queen Mary in The King’s Speech), ends the video by saying she looks forward to playing Shakespeare’s crones and any parts that are left for her, because “even the smallest are worth doing.”
I would say this was an hour well-spent!
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