Who was William Shakespeare and did he really write the dramas, comedies and sonnets attributed to him? That’s the question at the heart of this movie.
The movie begins with Derek Jacobi delivering a monologue regarding the truth behind the most famous author in the English language. Quite soon we learn this isn’t a typical period piece but a political thriller. We fade away to Ben Johnson running from the authorities to hide in his theater. The authorities believe that Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) knows the true identity of the playwright who has enthralled the people with a host of inflammatory plays that have been recently performed.
We are soon jumping through time meeting a cast of flaxen gentlefolk like the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), the Earl of Southampton (Xavier Samuel) and the Earl of Essex (Sam Reid) who are concerned with the secession of Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave as the old Queen and Joely Richardson as the Young Queen). Southampton and Oxford believe that Essex would be the perfect ruler after the Queen. They are pitted against William Cecil and later his son Robert Cecil who act as the Queen’s advisors and prefers James I of Scotland to be the next King of England.
The Earl of Oxford believes that the written word is powerful and came be a force for change and enlists an unsuccessful playwright to be the face of his work. Working as a professional writer is consider being beneath the status of an Earl. Johnson is reluctant to associate himself with the musings of an Earl and soon an actor with the troupe sees an opportunity and jumps on it. William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) is more than happy to take part in the ruse. Although he Shakespeare is reluctant to give up acting, he loves the notoriety and attention he receives as a playwright.
In the beginning it is hard to keep track of all the Earls and playwrights we meet. But the viewers’ patience and paying close attention is reward in the end.
Some people believe that William Shakespeare a commoner could not have the education nor the knowledge to write some of the detailed dramas like Hamlet, Richard V and Julius Caesar.
The truth regarding William Shakespeare is moot and this point. A wondrous body of work has been left for us to enjoy. Next summer, try to catch a bit of Shakespeare whether it is in a park, by the sea or in Stradford-upon-Avon.
Independent Shakespeare Company: http://www.iscla.org
Shakespeare By The Sea: http://www.shakespearebythesea.org
Royal Shakespeare Company: http://www.rsc.org.uk
Public Theater (NYC): http://www.publictheater.org
To learn more about the Oxfordians check out their website: www.shakespeare-oxford.com