PREPARE yourself for a Shakespearian experience the likes of which only Roland Emmerich can deliver. The man best known for special effects-laden blockbusters like ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ has turned his hand to Elizabethan London and - as usual - his scenery and immersement into such a chaotic world is complete and believable.
The storyline, however, is a different kettle of fish. The basic plot: Shakespeare did not really write any of his plays or sonnets. Here, the great William Shakespeare (played by Rafe Spall) is an illiterate actor, a drunk, an opportunist, and little else.
The rather pompous Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) is put forward as the real author, his creative genius repressed by his wife’s puritanical family, who would rather see his head on the block rather his signature on a published page.
Into the breach steps Will Shakespeare who gladly takes up the mantel, for the princely sum of 400 pounds to build his own theatre. The story unravels into what can only be described as a ‘romp’, but there are nuances to be found. The catty Christopher Marlowe character is well-written and acted, Rhys Ifans is always fantastic to watch, and the casting of Vanessa Redgrave as the elder Queen Elizabeth, and her real-life daughter Joley Richardson as her younger self adds a nice touch of realism to an otherwise overblown movie.
True Shakespeare buffs will surely resent the bard’s genius being re-assigned to a nobleman, implying that no one with “but a grammar school education” (which would surely have been quite good, anyway) could possibly have penned such lines. The premise of a great writer being forever anonymous is fascinating and tragic, but this film not only seems to stab Shakespeare in the back, but de Vere doubly so. Does the film suggest that we should celebrate the words alone, no matter who wrote them? And if so, what is the point of the film?! An enjoyable ‘romp’ indeed but I suspect hardcore bardic scholars will not be impressed.