There’s a BBC Four series from last summer, Uncovering Shakespeare; I saw the first two episodes last night, Macbeth first and The Comedies/Shakespeare’s Women second, which is the opposite of the order of broadcast.
I thought the Macbeth wasn’t very good. It was way too heavy on “interesting” but totally irrelevant visuals – lots of New York streets packed with cars, for instance; wut? – and way too light on the words. Not enough discussion of the words, not enough saying of them, not enough clips of actors saying them, pretty much no discussion at all of the way the words do the work. On the other hand there were some clips, and the discussion wasn’t actually boring, so I enjoyed watching it, but I wished it had been better.
But the next one was good. Joely Richardson was the presenter, and she knows her Shakespeare (and his words) a lot better than Ethan Hawke (who presented the Macbeth one) does.
And it was on a subject I’m very keen on, which is how astonishing it is that Shakespeare did so much with women characters when that wasn’t the norm at all (and still isn’t, not to the extent that he did it) and when he had only boys to play the parts. Yeah. They talked mostly about Twelfth Night and As You Like It. There was a lot of conversation with Vanessa Redgrave, sitting opposite Joely Richardson on a couch. JR’s voice is so like VR’s it’s almost funny.
Neither episode, though, can hold a candle to Playing Shakespeare, the nine part series directed by John Barton in which actors – Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Stewart, Peggy Ashcroft, David Suchet, Harriet Walter, Alan Howard, and others – and Barton discuss the language in detail, and perform bits of scenes. It’s enthralling and illuminating (and regulars with acute memories will remember that I’ve talked about it before). It’s on DVD; the library has it. What’s taken me so long?!