While the world and his wife celebrate the life and works of Charles Dickens for the year that's in it, another great wordsmith has been occupying the minds of many period dramatists of late and may be set to have a very prosperous 2012 indeed. As the centrepiece of London's Cultural Olympiad this summer, BBC Two has assembled a who's who of Shakespearian interpreters to bring to the small screen the great man's tetralogy of plays detailing the lives of three successive English kings. Hugely celebrated theatre directors Rupert Goold, Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock will direct Ben Whishaw (regally pictured above), Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston in the title roles of Richard II, Henry IV - Parts 1 and 2 and Prince Hal/Henry V respectively. The admirably ambitious project will feature an exhaustively Harry Potter-esque happy breed of familiar faces including David Suchet, John Hurt, Reece Shearsmith, Iain Glen, Alun Armstrong, Lindsay Duncan, David Morrisey, David Bradley, Niamh Cusack, Maxine Peake, Richard Griffiths, Paterson Joseph, Tom Hughes, Harry Haddon Paten, Tom Goodman-Hill, Michelle Dockery, Clemence Poesy and Patrick Stewart with Rory Kinnear, Julie Walters and Simon Russell Beale appearing as the iconic characters of Bolingbroke, Mistress Quickly and Falstaff.
Meanwhile, the oft-filmed tale of the star-crossed lovers who, let's just say never get around to shopping for the first home together in the greater Verona area, will be back on the big screen before the year is out. Adapted by another one of Maggie Smith's favourite writers, Julian Fellowes, Romeo and Juliet is currently being filmed on location in Italy by Italy's own Carlo Carlei. It will bring the timeless tragedy back to 16th century basics, more Zefferelli than Luhrmann and feature an exciting mixture of acclaimed acting veterans and acclaimed bright young things in the cast. Fresh from the Gargery forge, Great Expectations's Douglas Booth will star as Romeo alongside the Oscar-nominated American actress from True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet with Gossip Girl's Ed Westwick as Tybalt, Let Me In's Kodi Smit-McPhee as Benvolio and Christian Cooke as Romeo's BFF Mercuitio. Lesley Manville will fuss as The Nurse, Paul Giamatti will garden as Friar Laurence, Damian Lewis and Natasha McElhone will be cold and distance as Juliet's parents and Stellan Skarsgard will try in vain to uphold the peace as The Prince. I welcome the project wholeheartedly although it will be difficult for folks from my generation to listen to the Queen Mab speech without expecting a flamboyant rendition of Young Hearts Run Free to follow in rapid succession.