Similar to the periodic skirmishes caused by detractors claiming Shakespeare didn’t write much of his work, which is the subject of Roland Emmerich’s appalling Anonymous, it’s become de rigueur among cineastes to debate the worthiness of Shakespeare in Love. The bickering centers on two issues—whether it deserved to win roughly 50 awards, including Oscars for best picture and actress, and if the overview of the period is factual. For the former a resounding yes: romanticism is the antidote apothecaries prescribe to overcome the damage wrought by cyclical cynicism. The latter query is answered by the movie’s smart functionality reflecting myriad detailing and implicit attachments. Madden, Norman and Stoppard take us to the Bard’s writing table at which he prepares his goose feather quills—correctly stripped down—and dips them into an ink likely from “oak apples,” lumpy deposits on the trees caused by insects, and writes in secretary hand on papyrus. (Imagine the cramps he nursed.) Befitting lifts from his sonnets, dialogue from other plays and convenient wish fulfillments are interpolated by personages who abound throughout: Judi Dench’s trenchant Elizabeth I; Rupert Everett’s Christopher Marlowe; Ben Affleck’s Ned Alleyn (England’s first superstar actor?); Martin Clunes’s Richard Burbage, for whom Shakespeare wrote Richard III, Hamlet, Othello and King Lear; Geoffrey Rush as The Rose theatre owner Philip Henslowe; and Joe Roberts as a young mischievous John Webster, who’d later become the era’s Jacobean dark sider. Production designer Martin Childs, set decorator Jill Quertier, and photographer Richard Greatrex give London and the theatres infectiously teeming atmospheres and costumer Sandy Powell dresses the royals in comical fancy schmancy getups and the plebs in soiled shirts, hose, codpieces, doublets, sleeves and breeches that virtually smell of sweat and vino.
At this writing TNT’s Will is covering some of the same territory. Executive producer and director of the first four episodes is Shekhar Kapur, who helmed Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. He’s brought along a very impressive cadre of designers to provide heft. Not yet seeing enough to warrant assessment, I can’t help wondering, when rock music is used to pull in a younger audience, as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette also attempt, if there’s the risk of cultural crossbreeding pollution at the expense of respect for history. Kapur turned the first Elizabeth into a riddled-with-flagrant-falsehoods Godfather; in the second, he makes the queen a dipshit matchmaker who never once commands an evening of Shakespeare. According to IMDb, and oblivious to repetition, he’s in pre-production with Elizabeth: The Dark Age.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER (Revised 7/2017) All Rights Reserved.