By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
From director Kenneth Branagh, an obvious fan of Shakespeare and his works, comes this fictionalized take on “The Bard’s” retirement and the aftermath of a life dedicated to one’s passionate career. Though poignant and interesting at times, the film often meanders and waxes a bit too philosophically and regretfully. The result is the work of filmmakers who don’t seem to know exactly what to do with their protagonist or the people in his life.
Branagh stars as writer William Shakespeare. After his beloved Globe theater gets destroyed in a fire, Shakespeare decides to return to his family’s home and reconnect with his wife Anne (Judi Dench) and his adult daughters Susana and Judith (Lydia Wilson, Kathryn Wilder). As he soon discovers, his daughter and family are undergoing some real drama of their own. As the Puritanical church gains strength in his community, Shakespeare and his family must contend with the scandals that arise from the family problems. In addition, Shakespeare must finally come to terms with the untimely death of his son which he has avoided by burying himself into his work.
Written by Ben Elton, Branagh’s film never makes any strong or genuinely powerful headway into this portrait of a regretful and once self-involved artist who must face reality at the end of his career. Though Elton and Branagh touch upon the religious politics of the time, they merely tread upon it lightly and weakly without any major payoff. The development of their Shakespeare seems nearly as lost and uncertain as Hamlet himself, but just doesn’t have the real gumption to take some serious action. The film has a genuine visual beauty, courtesy of the production crew and is captured rather nicely by cinematographer Zac Nicholson.
The entire cast performs adequately well, but don’t perform in such ways that deserve accolades. In addition to the cast members listed previously, the film features solid work by Ian McKellen, Jack Colgrave Hirst, Phil Dunster and Hadley Frasier.
And though I feel that Branagh and Elton desired to offer their audience something more compelling and insightful, perhaps not enough knowledge about these affairs exists, and nor should they have tried to take such fiction/speculative liberties with the material. Still, Branagh’s love for Shakespeare, his life and art is more than obvious at this point and maybe he should simply stick to honoring The Bard by adapting more of his plays for cinema.