Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Like the Lark at Break of Day

It was a night for not letting truth get in the way of a good story.

A rainy night at that, for, what, the third or fourth night in a row? That's not a complaint, mind you, because I've been really enjoying these wet, beachy days. Today's was followed by a fine soggy night to spend in Stratford-on-Avon watching Shakespeare's final three years unfold at the Criterion in "All is True."

Which, for the uninformed (which was me before seeing this), was the original title of "Henry VIII," the play that was being performed when the Globe Theater burned down. That's also the point at which this particular film begins, with Will, his theater gone, vowing never to write a word again.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Kenneth Branagh as Will, which made it catnip to someone like me (I thought his "Much Ado About Nothing" was a masterpiece and saw it twice), the film also boasted Judy Dench as his wife, Anne Hathaway, a non-too happy wife given her husband's prolonged absences in London over the past 20 years.

Safe to say that Will wasn't getting an invitation into the marriage bed (which is the second best bed because, of course, the best bed is in the guest room...so Puritan) anytime soon.

Although he may not have  minded given that the film posits that Will's true love was the Early of Southampton, for whom he wrote all those sonnets and dedicated them to "the fair youth." Magnificently played by Ian McKellen, the conversation between the two men in front of the fireplace was a master class in poetry as they recited Sonnet 29 to each other, the difference in their ages and stations in life making for completely different interpretations.

I'm not too proud to admit that I would have sat there and listened to those two actors read sonnets for two hours. I love hearing poetry read aloud.

The film was a gorgeous escape, the soft-focus scenes of rural England's meadows, ponds and fields making them look almost magical in a Monet-in-England kind of a way. Just as dazzling in a different way were the many interior scenes lit solely by candlelight and fire's glow, although all I could think about was how limited your reading time must have been when flame provided the only illumination.

Even if the story hadn't captured my imagination, and it definitely did, it was beautifully shot that it could be appreciated solely as eye candy.

For me, one of the most thought-provoking scenes occurs while Will is gardening and a fan approaches. What he asks of the great playwright and poet is, "How did you know? to which Will asks, "Know what?"

The fan's answer? "Everything."

It was a light bulb moment. How did this man who'd never traveled and had limited life experience - he couldn't have known that many complex, compelling people on which to base characters - dream up the fantastical plots and myriad people and locales that went into his plays?

Let's face it, most of us don't know a King Lear or even an Ophelia type. Or perhaps 21st century denizens are just less complex than Jacobeans, who knows?

Nobody knows, just like nobody knows what Shakespeare did in his final three years besides spend them with his family. Maybe his imagination gave out or his brain just needed a rest from all that writing.

I'm telling you, it could happen.

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