'Rosaline' and 5 More Memorable Films That Center Side Shakespeare Characters

Hulu's adaptation of Rebecca Serle's 'When You Were Mine' gives voice to the one that got away in 'Romeo and Juliet.' But she's not the only Shakespearian character who deserves to be the hero in her own story.
by Whitney Friedlander — 

Kaitlyn Dever and Kyle Allen in 'Rosaline'


OK, stalker. 

Rosaline, the catalyst for William Shakespeare's infamous play about star-crossed teens Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet doesn't speak (and, in some adaptations, isn't even seen). But her existence is how this whole bloody mess got started.

Rosaline is Juliet's cousin and, therefore, is a member of House Capulet — the sworn enemy of Romeo's family, the Montagues. To quote her brooding would-be suitor, "She hath forsworn to love, and in that vow / Do I live dead that live to tell it now." Since she keeps blowing him off and Romeo can't take a hint, he and his friends crash a party thrown by the Capulets. 

And it's there — perhaps, maybe, through a fish tank — he connects with Juliet and their quick and fatal relationship begins.

So what was this lady actually like?

Rebecca Serle's 2012 YA novel When You Were Mine gives voice to the one that got away in Romeo and Juliet. Director Karen Maine's cinematic adaptation of the book, simply titled Rosalineand which hit Hulu on Oct. 14, casts Kaitlyn Dever as this mysterious other woman whose story got lost in the shuffle of Shakespeare's story. As the protagonist of this new story, she not only gets to be a hero for herself, but also for her cousin

But the film is not the first one to pay homage to Shakespeare characters who are not the protagonists. Read on for five of the most memorable.



Metropolitan Opera


There have been several cinematic (or, at least, staged film) interpretations of librettist Arrigo Boito and composer Giuseppe Verdi's comedic opera about one of the Bard's favorite buffoons and a character who appears in several of his plays. Adapted from parts of the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor as well as historical dramas Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, this story finds a drunken Sir John Falstaff both pickled and in a pickle: In order to pay his bar tab, he tries to seduce two rich women. They don't fall for it. And their husbands are not amused. 



Courtesy of V.B.


Well, if you just saw it from his perspective. 

No, the jealous schemer who brought down a perfectly happy relationship is still pretty awful even when Italian director Volfango De Biasi changes the POV from Othello to his not-to-be-trusted associate. 

Set in modern times and with modern language in this 2009 film, Othello isn't a war hero but a rising star studying architecture at the University of Venice. The trouble is, so is his classmate Iago. While Iago is self-made from humble beginnings, Othello is wealthy and well-connected. He not only cheats Iago out of overseeing a fancy architecture project but begins dating the woman who has stolen Iago's heart: Desdemona, the chancellor's daughter. Obviously, Othello must be destroyed.


'Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead'


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Probably considered the GOAT when it comes to less-appreciated Shakespeare characters, Tom Stoppard's play-turned-1990-film is about the two guys who don't know that their best bud, Hamlet, is about to send them up the river. 

The meta tragicomedy follows Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman) and Guildenstern (Tim Roth) — or is it Guildenstern and Rosencrantz? Sometimes not even they can tell the difference — as they arrive at Elsinore Castle. The duo wind up in alternate timelines, sometimes serving as an audience to scenes that actually did happen in the play and sometimes on their own as the wonder what's gotten into Hamlet to make him so gloomy and entertaining themselves by playing "questions" (a game where they only talk to each other in the form of a question). 

The story is one of destiny and whether it's possible to change the courses of one's life or if it's all been preordained.

Stoppard's work also received its own tongue-in-cheek adaptation in 2010 with the film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead (a vampire is involved). 


Daisy Ridley in 'Ophelia'

IFC Films


Why did Hamlet's beloved drown herself? Was it because she knew too much? Director Claire McCarthy's 2019 film attempts to give some backstory to the doomed young woman. Set in the 14th century but spoken in modern voice, Daisy Ridley stars as the beautiful and intelligent lady-in-waiting to Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts). 

Eventually, she and the young prince begin an illicit affair. But war is brewing and lust and betrayal are tearing Elsinore Castle apart from within. Suddenly, Ophelia, in order to protect a very dangerous secret, must choose between her true love or her own life.

Based on Lisa Klein's 2006 novel, the film also stars Clive Owen as Hamlet's uncle and newly appointed stepdad and 1917's George MacKay as the titular prince.


From left to right: Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer in 'A Thousand Acres'

Buena Vista Pictures

A Thousand Acres

You may have heard that Shakespeare might have written King Lear during lockdown for a plague. You may have also heard that HBO's Successioncould be a modern-take on the story, as the bard's play opens with a king who is obsessed with his legacy and his three daughters. It's a winner-take-all scenario where the one who can prove she loves him the most scores his inheritance. 

It's also a pretty disturbing story about incest and a king with a nasty Oedipus complex. 

Author Jane Smiley reworked the story into a novel titled A Thousand Acres, and director Jocelyn Moorhouse and screenwriter Laura Jones' adaptation of that novel attempts to neither pit the sisters against each other nor turn them into bargaining chips for men in the story.

The 1997 movie stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as (respectively) Rose, Ginny, and Caroline Cook — daughters to Iowa farmer Larry Cook (Jason Robards). Caroline escaped the life preordained for her and became a lawyer in Des Moines, leaving Rose and Ginny to accept truths about their childhood and their marriages as their father grows more delusional.