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Exam season brings boom in DVD rentals

Romeo did not die in Juliet's arms: he went on to be nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in Revolutionary Road.

Meanwhile, Hamlet, or the actor who played him in a recent West End production, developed a nice sideline teaching defence against the dark arts at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry.

This seems to be literary reality for many pupils today. Lovefilm, the DVD hire firm, reports that rentals of English literature set texts have risen by 44 per cent since the start of the exam period.

This, they say, reflects the number of desperate candidates rejecting the written word for the less time-consuming film version.

Darren Bignell, of Lovefilm, questions whether this can be coincidence. "Expediency is the name of the game, especially when you haven't done anywhere near enough revision," he said.

"A picture is worth a thousand words. And it doesn't take anywhere near the time it takes to watch a thousand words."

The most commonly requested set text was The Handmaid's Tale, an adaptation of the novel by Margaret Atwood. Demand for this increased by 624 per cent between January and June.

King Lear, starring Ian McKellen, showed an increase of 271 per cent since January. And Kenneth Branagh's unabridged version of Hamlet was up 270 per cent.

Anxious pupils have also been renting Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet (pictured), starring Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck, and Death of a Salesman, with Dustin Hoffman.

But Mr Bignell believes there are advantages to the trend.

"Numbers two, three and four on our lists are Shakespeare plays. These were meant to be experienced, not read," he said.

"But if you rely on Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet too much, you might go into the exam and talk about gun play between the Montagues and Capulets."

But Ian McNeilly, of the National Association for the Teaching of English, insists that to read or not to read is not the question. Instead, pupils are using films to complement the text.

"Films can be more memorable than the actual text for some students," he said. "So it should be a complementary aid and support. But the text must be absolutely primary."

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