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Last Will & Testament (2012)

8.5
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This documentary explores the ongoing debate about the authorship of the works attributed to Shakespeare. Writers and critics, actors and scholars, including Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, ... See full summary »

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Title: Last Will & Testament (2012)

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This documentary explores the ongoing debate about the authorship of the works attributed to Shakespeare. Writers and critics, actors and scholars, including Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin, and many others have struggled to reconcile England's "Star of Poets" with the grain dealer from Stratford. Why? Written by Anonymous

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The truth behind Shakespeare could rewrite history.


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23 October 2012 (USA)  »

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A quiet, profoundly effective film
11 November 2012 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The miasma that is the Authorship Question is fraught with twists and turns, accusations and counter-accusations, tom-foolery and skulduggery, Elizabethan codes and battle Royals whose stakes may seem academic but to the participants very real indeed. In fact, it is hard to separate the modern from the historical, and a pattern of intrigue not too dissimilar from the "Shakespearean" Canon itself. "Last Will. And Testament" is an all-around brilliant film, not flashy, not terribly ground- breaking when it comes to cinematic technique, but tells a complicated story simply, eloquently, sticking to essential details without getting mired in overkill. It's obvious the film could be a 10-part miniseries but, to the uninitiated, for whom this film is really meant, is a perfect start to an incredible story. Liberal sprinklings of the scenes from "Anonymous" avidly help fill the pictorial void of too many talking heads, although it should be said that nothing what they say is wasted, all of it compelling, and each person vivid and real.

Told mainly from the Oxfordian point-of-view, it's a pretty convincing outline of the major issues from start to finish, offering a nice historical overview of Elizabethan England to start— not the nicest place to be, politically speaking; "off with their heads" was a phrase heard and performed often to non-believers—and moving through the known history of William Shaksper (not much), the authorship question itself, and the likely candidate—Edward de Vere —and the many pieces of puzzle that form the final picture.

Along the way, we are treated to observances from many experts on both sides—more from the Oxfordian view than the Stratfordian side.

The film makes many small, wonderful points throughout, not in a hard-hitting way, but subtly, intellectually, almost unfurling rather than documenting. Beautifully photographed, warmly edited, and nicely told, it's a great start for the uninformed, and bodes well for the future.

If there is a fault—and this is a very minor one—it's that the film is almost too polite. It postulates very plausible, fully realized coincidences and connections and allows both sides their say but never in the company of someone who disagrees with them. The interviewer is unseen and unheard and is never Socratically engaged, trying to draw the interviewee out of their comfort zones, trying to illicit the "big reveal." In an age of Michael Moore confrontation, this is a positive—almost antiquated respite—it manages this well, and allows the film to tell a story without being didactic about it. Even so, just a little back & forth questioning of the interviewees would have been nice and not particularly unwarranted, while still treating the subject with the reverence it requires and not allowing experts from either side blind exposure to their opinions.

That said, the two Stratfordians come across as fine scholars and gentlemen but who have still, essentially, missed the boat. They resolutely cling to their story like a boy caught with their hand in a cookie jar who deny the truth even while sent to the corner. Stanley Wells fares worst—his statement that Cecil is NOT Polonius in Hamlet is amongst his worst obfuscations, as is his claim than anything Shakespeare needed to know was taught to him in his grade school at Stratford-on-Avon, even though the level of knowledge contained within in the plays, as any expert can attest, is so specific to higher learning amongst the royals and the worlds best tutors, that no commoner could ever have had that kind of access. To them, Shakespeare just was, and then wasn't. Burning brightly for a short time, he lived, wrote, and died in a vacuum. Hardly the very soul of mankind whose plays were about courtly matters (he didn't have access to), travel to remote parts of the world (he'd never been to), or numerous and specific references to books (in languages he didn't understand), and on and on and on.

The film wraps up nicely with the de Vere heirs and their direct connection to the original publications of the First Folio, even mentioning the less-famous river Avon that runs close by and through a little town called Stratford-sub-Castle near Wilton House (the ancestral home of the de Veres)—a clear jab to those who believe that Jonson meant the more famous one at Stratford-on-Avon when he penned the words 'the sweet Bard of Avon' and not this modest river which, intellectually and geographically, makes all the sense in the world.

New evidence of de Vere's lengthy trip to the continent, and how this translated into the plays is presented. The film every-so-briefly touches upon the Prince Tudor theories I & II and how this has diluted —if not set back the cause a bit—the message of the Oxfordians. The Sonnets and their place in history as last gasp of a dying, forgotten man-who-would-be-king is an especially poignant, tear-jerking part of the documentary.

The Stratfordians, clearly, do not have much of an intellectual leg to stand on—the weakness of their arguments is in plain sight for all to see—as the preponderance of best evidence slowly moves from Stratford-on-Avon (and has for sometime in reality) and settles into the very heart of Elizabethan England, directly in the heart of courtiers and gentlemen, and points to a supremely flawed man possessed of singular, titanic knowledge, wit, and courage, whose writing has spanned the Ages and is directly responsible for much about the genius of man, but whose mortal coil is destined (hopefully for not too much longer) to remain metaphorically boxed in the ground, suffering his fame and genius not in silence but through the great words and scenes of his stage plays.


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