As a lifelong worshiper of The Bard and an admirer of Kenneth Branagh, I was excited to see this film, and it lived up to my expectations. Will's was a recognisable family to our modern eyes, convincingly and sympathetically conjured. Truth spiced with supposition and conjecture, fact with fiction. A beautiful film in the visual sense too, the candlelit interiors contributed greatly to the authenticity of the early Stuart period of Shakespeare's last years. The house was rather grander than New Place in Stratford, but a lovely location for the film. Steeped in enthusiasm for his work, it is easy to overlook the human trials and tribulations of the person and the tragedy of losing his son, especially in an era of complete male dominance. The wonderful scene with the Earl of Southampton was dignified and tender and devoid of all condescension on the part of the Earl (perfectly played by Ian McKellan). The whole film was acted superbly, which was unsurprising considering the acclaimed cast.
The short films beforehand were as delightful and apposite as we have come to expect. Star Crossed - a Romeo and Juliet ... with ice cream: Shakespeare Solos in which Joanna Lumley spoke lines from Twelfth Night: an excerpt from Upstart Crow: Shakespeare Live in which a group of famous actors and Prince Charles gave a young actor advice on how to deliver Hamlet's lines of To be or not to be: and last, but by no means least, the beautiful rendition of Sonnet 18 so beautifully sung by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd it drew tears to my eyes.
An enthusiastic group met to discuss the film at the close of the evening and all but one had enjoyed it very much. Most agreed the script had been well written and that Ben Elton had done a good job. Some were concerned as to the age of the eel in the fish market as it seemed to be the same one two years into the story. All of us were impressed by the filming and that it had only taken thirty days to complete. Anne greatly entertained us by relating her experience of actually being on stage, in Peter Hall days, with Ian McKellan, and of another time, when she was sitting in the front row, and Kenneth Branagh spattered her with theatrical blood.