Film review: Doctor Faustus

In the movie Doctor Faustus, co-directed by Richard Burton and Nevill Coghill, Faustus sells his soul to the devil (David McIntosh), in exchange for Mephistopheles’ service (Andreas Teuber). Coghill adapted Christopher Marlowe’s play, likely written in the 1590’s and published in 1604, for the big screen. Richard Burton stars as Faustus, and Elizabeth Taylor plays all female roles.

The movie opens with Faustus graduating from the college in Wittenberg, but he quickly grows bored. Faustus conjures the Devil, and sells his soul for 24 years of power. He begins his adventure travelling the world, but maybe not for what you think. The audience gets to witness the choices he makes and what he will do with his new found power.

The movie takes the audience through the story really well even though it excludes the comedic scenes, like when Wagner talks to the clown, or some of Faustus’ world travels. Doctor Faustus mostly follows the central plot from the text and reinterprets selected subplots. For instance, Faustus enjoys becoming invisible to play tricks on the Pope, but Marlowe’s version doesn’t include a pie-in-the-face joke. Without as many comedic scenes the movie becomes more of a drama, whereas the play tends to poke fun at the ideology of heaven and hell.

However, the basic ideas are still there. Furthermore, the film offers a visual for those attempting to read the play. The movie itself is worth watching, especially if you need help understanding the story; it would be best for kids in high school or above. Faustus dives into mature topics that are also interesting for those studying Shakespeare. Similarities can be drawn between the two, but they are different enough that this play feels refreshing and new.

– Hunter Morgan

Review: Burton and Coghill’s Faustus
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