Will on the TNT cable TV network
Will and Alice
Twenty years ago cinema audiences fell for “Shakespeare in Love”, a film that presented the playwright as all too human, so different from the stuffy fellow many people thought he was. Fast forward to this summer and we have the TV series “Will”, which takes that idea, and not only expands on it, but gives it the Baz Lurhman treatment. Which means costumes from various time periods, a great soundtrack and atmospheric urban settings.
The first thing you have to do is suspend any notions of historical accuracy. This is usually difficult for me, but the appeal of the show soon tamped down my nitpicking. Yes, the leather jacket of one of the characters looks as if it belongs in a production of “Grease” rather than Shakespeare and the sleeveless summer frocks the young women wear would’ve gotten any of them jailed for indecency then, but wasn’t that opening using Bowie’s “Fame” terrific? Many of the reviews went on about this being “punk rock Shakespeare”, but after a couple episodes, that seemed normal.As does the speech, a blend of Middle Ages and modern.
The premise of the series is following the young Will Shakespeare(Laurie Davidson), newly arrived in the big city of London, where he lands at a theatre owned by the Burbages. Their son, Richard, is the handsome star of their productions and their daughter, Alice helps backstage and soon becomes a helpmeet to Will, transcribing his plays. This soon becomes a romance, despite Will’s wife and children being back in Stratford. Their relationship becomes a central thread and one which changes the most over the story arc.
Though obviously Will is the centerpiece of the show, Marlowe stole the stage in any scenes he appeared in. Actor Jamie Campbell Bower was riveting, every inch the rock star with long hair and puffy shirts and that deep voice. At first, his Marlowe seemed to just be pushing the envelope for it’s own sake, but soon the extreme behavior becomes understandable as a search for Life’s meaning. And extreme it is, the strangest incident is when Marlowe spends the night in a cemetary buried up to his neck. His trippy activities masks a personality that is very vulnerable behind all the cynicism and that dual nature is mysteriously appealing. The rivalry between Marlowe and Shakespeare is portrayed as a competitive friendship, with admiration on both sides.
The wider world of Elizabethan England is referred to: the plague, poverty, women’s lack of rights; mostly in side stories. But the era’s religious persecution is given quite a large chunk of time in each episode, told via two characters, Southwell, a secret Catholic priest, cousin of Shakespeare and quarry of Topcliffe, the Queen’s interrogator, whose scenes of torture was usually signaled by a ceiling view of his “workshop”, allowing wimps like me time to look away. Though on opposing sides, there is actually a lot of similarity between those characters, each extremely ambitious and somewhat twisted men whose drive rob them of empathy and human connections.
Though some criticized the portrayal of Shakespeare gaining inspiration and lines for his plays from everyday conversations, I found it realistic in how an artist’s brain works. The show had multiple storylines and felt well rounded in the way they were told over it’s ten episodes.
Partway through writing this review, news came that the show had been cancelled which was upsetting. There was still so many more stories that could’ve been told and I will certainly miss the characters. Hopefully at some point, it will be released on DVD for future viewing, though it remains available on various platforms for the time being. It’s scheduled to air in the UK and other overseas markets later this year, where it might have a larger viewership than in the U.S., where it did have a passionate, but small, fan base.As disappointing as it was to have the show end, it was quite enjoyable while it lasted and a high point of my summer.
If you’d like a taste of the show, here’s the best of the official previews-Will trailer #4.