This is an imagined biopic using fact and intuitive judgement, based on Shakespeare’s life after he laid down his quill and returned from London to his home in Stratford.
Written by Ben Elton, the script is tilted empathetically towards Shakespeare (played by Kenneth Branagh who also directed), dealing belatedly with the death of his son, Hamnet, at age 11. His wife, Anne (Judi Dench) and unmarried daughter, Judith (Kathryn Wilder) harbour their own grievances while ministering to ever more indulgent self-pity from Shakespeare. Meanwhile, Shakespeare’s unhappily married daughter, Susannah, threatens to besmirch the family name by stepping outside the bounds of Puritan society.
The film is very measured, with clustered scenes of short dialogue and lots of gardening. Ian McKellen makes a delicious cameo appearance as Earl Of Southampton and there’s a rather sly reference to King Lear in his exchange with Shakespeare – for McKellen fans. The cinematography is gorgeous with rich colours and sets and some very clever framing. It’s a nice film if not especially brilliant.
Reviewed by Rita Bratovich