Judge William L. reviews a movie written by William B. about William S.'s love for William H.
The mystery of Shakespeare and his sonnets.
William Shakespeare's collection of 154 sonnets was published in 1609. A certain mystery has been attached to these works and English scholars have milked its possibilities for 400 years. Many lifetimes of research have fueled speculations on the identities of "Mr. W.H.," to whom the poems were dedicated, and the "Dark Lady" and "Fair Youth" that inspired the poet. Centuries of academic debate are hushed at roughly the 20-minute mark in the BBC production A Waste of Shame and anglophiles everywhere can release a collective yawn.
Screenwriter William Boyd (A Good Man in Africa), a former lecturer at Oxford University, based the story on hints provided in the sonnets, historical record and consultation with a leading Shakespeare scholar. "In the film I use my imagination time and again, but it is backed up by scrupulous research," he states in an interview with Open2.net (the interview is linked in the Accomplices section). I won't attempt to question the historic and academic value of what is presented in this story. Let's assume Boyd's treatment of the mystery is plausible, perhaps even the most likely. However, it doesn't excuse this production for being a limp drama that lacks the intensity of emotion that would fuel the writing of the Sonnets.
Shakespeare is definitely portrayed in a manner that is atypical of the usual treatment of the Bard. The man we see here has practically abandoned his family to pursue his fortune in London. When he is called back to Stratford-upon-Avon to see his critically ill son, it's clear that his wife Anne Hathaway (Anna Chancellor, Breaking and Entering) is not the love of his life. Anne is right to call William a whoremonger as he spends most of his free time at a brothel. The greatest playwright in the English language is not an admirable character, but rather, an ordinary and flawed man.
Rupert Graves (V for Vendetta) fills Shakespeare's shoes and he walks through the filth of 17th century London without showing much feeling for any of it. The plague is coming—that might be bad for theater business. There's a prostitute being beaten by three men—oh, they're probably just angry about catching the pox. He also behaves like a jealous schoolboy when his favorite prostitute ignores him. As for the "fair youth" that catches his eye, it renders him ridiculous. He just stares longingly, barely able to speak, like a schoolgirl pining for recognition from a teen idol. The worst trait of this Shakespeare is that he is so ineffectual. He's jealous that his whore is with other men but he doesn't do anything to keep her affection. He is smitten by the young lad but he doesn't have the courage to act on his feelings. If his Sonnets were simply the frustrated expression of a cowardly horn dog, it's a sad reduction of a collection of great writing.
Indira Varma (Rome) plays Lucie, the "Dark Lady." She is certainly the most exotic woman in the cast and she has the ability to appear more dignified and radiant than the other prostitutes. Tom Sturridge (Pirate Radio) plays the "Fair Youth," a.k.a. William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke. His appearance is a collision of goth, skateboarder and dandy. It's hard to say if he is intentionally teasing poor William with those long curly locks of hair, pouty lips underscored with a wild boyish goatee and deep empty pools for eyes. That these two characters were the source for some of the most passionate poems about love and lust ever written is indeed a testament to Shakespeare's creativity and wit.
The handsome production is given a decent treatment on this DVD. The majority of scenes are lit by torchlight and the picture quality serves the cinematography well. Colors look natural and black levels are deep while a satisfying range of detail is retained in the shadows. The stereo audio mix mostly works fine. Music is minimal so dialogue remains strong. In a few scenes, I had trouble making out Tom Sturridge's mumbled lines.
As far as we know, it is entirely possible that Shakespeare was a homosexual who couldn't act on his desires and all the while he was in love with a Moorish-French prostitute. The shortcoming of A Waste of Shame is that it tells this story in such a straightforward and uninteresting manner. This love triangle is a non-event that we observe alongside some historical markers until the appropriate amount of time has passed. Where are the drama, love and suffering that would ignite the fire of creativity to produce the Sonnets? With or without a satisfying explanation to the mystery of Shakespeare's Sonnets, readers will still enjoy the poems. This movie really does no harm aside from being a waste of time.
Guilty. I recommend reading the original source works instead.
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