|Index||6 reviews in total|
This six hour mini-series really catches the flavor of Elizabethan England. Tim Curry is a surprising choice as Shakespeare because one expects a more traditional hero. Curry played the doctor on the submarine Red October in the movie of the same name, but his characterization is much stronger and more appealing in this movie. Ian McShane as Christopher Marlowe is interesting, but Nicholas Clay as the Earl of Southampton is breathtakingly handsome and steals every scene he is in--no, he doesn't have to steal them, they belong to him. Shakespeare's long debated sexuality is handled well in this movie although the implication that he and Southampton were homosexual lovers is definitely there. This movie is not as fast-paced as "Shakespeare in Love." It seemed longer than six hours long, but it kept me coming back for more each evening of the week. I know quite a bit about Shakespeare and this movie did not disappoint me. It was fun where it should be fun and serious where it should be serious. If you love Shakespeare, this one is probably for you!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although there are of course the expected blemishes, the newly
DVD-released "Will Shakespeare" series turned out to be everything I
hoped it would be. John Mortimer writes a script worthy of a Tom
Stoppard, addressing myriads of details from Shakespeare scholarship
and the historical debates surrounding it. Perhaps this series is only
for those with a really deep interest in Shakespeare - most others will
probably find it boring. But I belong to its narrow target audience,
and for me it is just what the Bard ordered. We got plenty of
interesting (if speculative) insights into theater life, with close-up
focuses on the entire troupe of players.
But, no, the series isn't perfect. We don't really get under Shakespeare's skin; we don't see much of his actual working process, or why he wrote such intricate and multi-layered poetry. The man himself, in this series, seems strangely unenthusiastic, always rather melancholic and distant. Even his relationships with Southampton and the dark lady don't truly seem to touch him. We never feel that this matters to him, and therefore we are never quite convinced that those people and experiences really were the source of his poetry. Of course, even if this were convincingly portrayed, I'd still not believe it, because I think the whole Southampton thing is bunk. Sure, Shakespeare had Southampton as a patron for a while, but the sonnet addressees do not represent real people; they talk about poetic constructs which extend infinitely farther than to the details of Shakespeare personal life. Shakespeare didn't bother with that kind of details; that kind of small-talk. He wrote about formidable events of the human condition; about the roles of history and art, delving deeply into the most hidden nature of reason and emotion and the human psyche.
But anyway! It's interesting to contrast this series to the 2005 TV movie "A Waste of Shame" - much of the material recurs in the latter, incl. the silly fabricated romance between Shakespeare, the Sonnet Youth (once again thought to be Southampton) and a "dark lady". The only major difference between the two versions is that in the newer version, Shakespeare is seen to order the printing of his Sonnets himself (in 1609), while in the 1978 series he weirdly and unhistorically smashes the printing plates so that the Sonnets *can't* be printed! And they also fabricate an earlier, unauthorized printed version of the Sonnets, most copies of which are then burned at the order of Southampton.
Still, the series has many interesting and worthwhile elements and gives a very nice and well-portrayed feeling of what Shakespeare's world may have been like. The limited budget sometimes shows itself in the very small number of characters present (Essex's entire rebellion consisted of five guys in the street, trying to get a reaction from other people, who were however all indoors and never showed themselves), but I must say the sets, costumes and acting performances all make splendidly up for whichever shortcomings may mar the rest of the show. The producers indeed husbanded their means in such a way that they went far with little.
8 out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I worked in the production office on this series in the middle seventies and it was the happiest of my working life for ATV Elstree. John Mortimer's witty writing (he used to bring his dog to work), Peter Woods' stylish first episode direction (he used to bring his cat), and the stunning young talent of the cast added up to what I assumed would be a fantastic hit. The sets were also magical and the incidental music by the City Waites (?) unique. There was of course occasional "trouble at mill". No series ever gets made without blood on the floor. Changing directors meant getting used to different styles of command in the studio. But these were overcome and the direction of each episode became more and more assured. In addition some actors were having an energetic social life, some had been unwell and there was pressure to conform to more delicate American sensibilities. Nonetheless it was a magical summer working on it. After all that work I never read a review in the UK - it seemed to fall into a black hole. To my mind that's worse than a bad review - no one knows what has worked/not worked as a consequence and it's insulting for the actors. But while we made it and when I watched it go to air I loved every moment of it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I agree with the second commenter. Despite the credentials of the
usually entertaining John Mortimer, this is an overblown example of the
bad Brit Lit series. There's a lot of swanning about and half-hearty
flourishes and seemingly endless and tedious scenes of eating! I also
agree that Ian McShane is wasted in a throwaway role as Kit Marlowe as
a boozy rakish "secret agent" who mentors young Will from the country
as a promising cockrel with a potential for word use. Tim Curry is not
wasted, but simply IS a waste. His acting range is minimal: a flash of
teeth, a shouting voice, and you've seen all of it. The worst is that
this series never engages the viewer in the characters or what's going
on. It's all surface and, sadly, cliché after cliché. SPOILER: When
Shakespeare's son Hamnet dies (historically of plague though the series
cocks that up, too), grieving Will returns home and -- gasp -- sets
free the pet bird from its cage. Pardon us for the collective yawn.
The costumes, too, (not for the plays but the daily wearing of clothing) are something out of "court appearances", not to mention the flow of gold coins is abundant here in an era when actual cash money was impossibly scarce and ha' pennies were the standard exchange (not crowns and sovereigns as portrayed). This is truly a bad series made worse by the inconstant soundtrack in which "period music" tends to overblow the dialogue. The repartee one might expect in a "wordsmith" of Shakespeare's ability is tossed away for tepid and strained conversations punctuated by sullen silences. The entire richness of Shakespeare's literary ability is replaced with ho-humdrum delivery. Best advice is to eschew the series and watch Shakespeare in Love or any of the fine performances of the plays.
The Life of Shakespeare isn't entirely successful, it doesn't
completely get under the skin of some of Shakespeare's life and some of
the relationships could have been further explored perhaps. But it was
much better than I expected, I to be honest wasn't actually expecting
it to be good, despite being a fan of Tim Curry and some of the other
Even with the flaws, this series wasn't in my opinion bad at all and a lot compensates. Despite me being a big Tim Curry fan, I was not sure at all whether he would work as Shakespeare. But in a very strong and appealing performance, and he is also very sexy here, he does. Curry is well supported by Paul Freeman, Ian McShane and particularly Nicholas Clay who steals the show a number of times.
The sets, costumes and photography are nothing grand or lavish, nor did they need to be. They still look great though, and stick true to the period. I also liked the 17th century lilt to the music too, the witty and intelligent writing and the stylish direction especially in the first episode.
All in all, surprisingly good series and an interesting one too. For Shakespeare fans, you will either love it or hate it, for Tim Curry fans, it is a treat! 8/10 Bethany Cox
Well, with all due respect to the brilliant actors associated with this production I must heartily disagree with the previous good review, evidently penned by a rabid Tim Curry fan, of this disenchanting mini-series. I felt Ian McShane, in particular, was totally wasted in his role -as Marlowe- and although Tim Curry did the best that could be done, with the sub par material, he was altogether forgettable in the lead. The ambling, misguided, largely fictional account of William Shakespeare's life was aided somewhat by adequate production values, but was not worthy of being aired on prime-time TV, in the US. In fact the ABC network considered showing it, at one point, but was rightfully disappointed with its clumsy, substandard contents. View it if you must, Tim Curry aficionados, but everyone else, I just thought you should be warned...
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