Watch This: Will Shakespeare

For this 1978 miniseries, writer John Mortimer fashioned a dramatic biography of Shakespeare’s time in London. So little factual evidence is available, that I suppose Mortimer can be forgiven for inventing some romantic, sometimes swashbuckling, fiction. If you’re expecting something polished and modern, this DVD is not for you, its 1970’s production values sadly in evidence. Actually, this presentation comes across as more of a stage play than a movie, but since WS made his living as a playwright, that struck me as more than fitting. Tim Curry did a creditable job with Will, as did Nicholas Clay with his Earl of Southampton and Ian McShane as Kit Marlowe. (It’s a treat to see the youthfulness of the actors, many of whom are now playing the older men that they’ve become.) Fiction it may be, but Mortimer came up with a plausible picture of the relationship between Shakespeare and Southampton, as well as his muse in the dark lady sonnets. It’s also satisfying to see WS in his role as father. But where this production shines brightest is in its depiction of life in Elizabethan London – the costumes and sets, the ever present threat of disease, the gap between peasant and aristocrat, and, above all, the smells and sounds of the city and its people. Almost as good as a time machine; better, perhaps, because we needn’t fear the plague!

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