A Waste of Shame: The Mystery of Shakespeare and His Sonnets [DVD]
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An intense drama about the passionate and destructive love triangle that consumed Shakespere in his troubled middle years adapting some of the most celebrated, sexual, raw, and vitriolic love poems ever written.
Shakespeare's Sonnets are the most compelling source for an emotional and dramatic journey into the psychology of the man himself. Self-analytical, brutally honest, they allow us to go behind the scenes of this complex genius they are his story told in his own words. Behind the lyrical, beautifully crafted language, a brooding obsession with the 'Lovely Boy' and Shakespeare's extra-marital relationship with a Dark Lady is revealed. The sonnet sequence is his unique meditation on love, sex, mortality and the creative urge, which has tantalised scholars and casual readers alike.
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"A Waste of Shame" is more an intimate chamber piece for three actors than a period spectacle or costume drama like "Shakespeare in Love." Fortunately, it's been cast from strength. Rupert Graves is a wonderful Will S., suggesting in many subtle ways the complex character of the "country boy" who has learned the proper way to act (in all senses of the word) in order to further his career in London. He reads (in voiceover) the fragments from the Sonnets that punctuate the film's progress beautifully, yet several of the most memorable moments are silent, allowing us to sense Will's emotions from Graves's highly expressive face. Even among his many excellent performances of the past few years - including "God on Trial," "The Waiting Room," "To Be First" and "Clapham Junction" - this is a stand-out. Tom Sturridge as Will H. projects the perfect air of adolescent androgyny in the early scenes, and finds a satisfying balance of aristocratic arrogance, seductive charm and deference to artistic talent. Indira Varma has the hardest task, since her character must be created out of whole cloth, but she manages to convey both Lucie's sexual allure and her hardheaded practicality convincingly.
The supporting cast, with roughly a dozen named roles, is also splendid, with Zoe Wanamaker a warm Countess of Pembroke and Anna Chancellor an embittered Anne Hathaway. My personal favorites, however, are Andrew Tiernan as a fiercely competitive Ben Jonson and Ian Hughes as publisher Thomas Thorpe, whose palpable dismay when Will S. brings him poems instead of a play is delightful.
John McKay has done a fine job of directing, the production is handsomely designed and shot (the DVD transfer appears first-rate), and there's an exceptional musical score by Kevin Sargeant. Way down in the credits, you will see listed as "Academic Advisor" Katherine Duncan-Jones; as editor of the current Arden Shakespeare edition of the Sonnets, she has written the best introduction to them that you could wish for. One of the many virtues of this modest but moving film is that it led me back to read these extraordinary poems again after many decades.
This 2005 BBC production was made in association with the Open University. It was a TV film that attempted to solve the mysteries of the identities of those referred to by Shakespeare in his sonnets: the fair youth and the dark lady. Despite being made for TV, it has high production values and could well have had a cinema release. (The only faux pas that I could discern was the neat and tidy brickwork of some of the houses.)
The story begins in 1596 with the death in Stratford of Shakespeare's only son, Hamnet, and ends in 1609 when the playwright hands over his manuscript of sonnets to his publisher and discusses the dedication. The story considers that the fair youth is William Herbert, "a very Adonis himself" according to his mother (played by Zoe Wanamaker), and "the master-mistress of my passion" according to Shakespeare, played convincingly by Rupert Graves. Herbert is played well by the long-legged and beautiful Tom Sturridge with a knowing smile; the dark lady is supposed to be Lucie, "a Moorish half-breed" who is French and a doxey. She is played by Indira Varma. The twist is that both of Shakespeare's loves - the fair youth and the dark lady - are themselves emotionally entwined.
I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the proposed identifications - the screenwriter is written by William Boyd - but the production is very down-to-earth compared with Hollywood's rendering of Shakespeare's life, and the film is all the better for that. (Fancy a mercury bath to cure your pox?) Much of the filming was done at Knole in Kent, which can be confusing for those who know it as the house stands in for a number of different settings. The film has a very good soundtrack by Kevin Sargent.
Alas, there are no extras.
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