Tag Archives: Joely Richardson

Bard games on PBS

In his Oscar-winning screenplay for Shakespeare in Love, Tom Stoppard floated the whimsical premise that the Bard’s endearing comedy Twelfth Night had been inspired by a (completely fictional) love affair he had while penning Romeo and Juliet. That film is a delightful romantic comedy, but Shakespeare Uncovered, a wonderful new six-film series premiering tonight on most PBS affiliates, manages to be just as entertaining by sticking to the facts as it explores the stories behind some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.
Two back-to-back hourlong episodes air on three successive Fridays, each hosted by a notable artist who has a passionate interest in the subject at hand, starting with Ethan Hawke, a former movie Hamlet who now is keen to get his kilted killer on in the title role of Macbeth. What follows is an engrossing look at one of Shakespeare’s darkest and most enigmatic plays, a work so haunted that superstitious actors refer to it only as “the Scottish play,” believing it bad luck to speak the actual title aloud.
As with the series as a whole, the episode draws on scholarly research from historians who provide background on the real-life Macbeth, who lived roughly 1,000 years ago, as well as commentary from actors who have grappled with the thorny roles of Macbeth and his formidable Lady (keep an eye peeled for a brief excerpt from an early TV production of the play with Sean Connery in the title role!).
The aforementioned Twelfth Night is a prominent part of tonight’s second hour, a fascinating appreciation of Shakespeare’s comedies hosted by Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck), joined by her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, whose own career was launched via an early 1960s televised performance as Rosalind in As You Like It. Both actresses bring a palpable passion and joy to their exploration of how Shakespeare’s comedies contain some of the playwright’s most profound observations on the human condition, especially as it pertains to women. The hour also includes some insightful commentary by Helen Mirren, an acclaimed Rosalind in her own right.
Next Friday’s episodes feature Derek Jacobi exploring the political thriller Richard II, including scenes from an upcoming Great Performances film adaptation of the play starring Patrick Stewart and Ben Whishaw, and Jeremy Irons reflecting on the history plays Henry IV and Henry V, also due for a Great Performances adaptation starring Irons and Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers).
The series concludes on Feb. 8 with David Tennant (Doctor Who) plumbing the depths of Hamlet and director Trevor Nunn considering Shakespeare’s last completed work, The Tempest.
While Shakespeare Uncovered is packed with interesting details, the series strikes a canny balance between scholarship and entertainment, so it should appeal both to Shakespeare enthusiasts and relative newcomers to these plays. Viewers who come to these episodes with at least a rudimentary grasp of what the featured plays are about, however, probably will have a slight advantage.