Truer than Truth: Shakespeare

DATELINE: Who is the Bard?

Shake-Vere?

Once again, a list of notable Shakespearean actors (Derek Jacobi among them) takes on the question of whether William Shakespeare was the man he claimed to be.

The film is called Nothing is Truer than Truth.

One theory continues to be pushed: Shakespeare was a pseudonym for Edward de Vere, a foppish bisexual Elizabethan favorite.

How could a country bumpkin who never left England write 40 plays about royal courts in Venice, Rome, and Greece? How could a man who did not have access to the greatest libraries of English nobility have done his research? As usual, the likelihood of genius never enters the equation. Even a genius needs a little knowledge (unless he is psychic).

One man fits the bill Shake-speare quite well. Edward de Vere.

With the use of mostly American experts, the documentary takes on a decidedly different tone than most of the British interpretations of the Shakespeare controversy.

Indeed, this approach takes De Vere on his travels to Venice, Palermo, Cyprus, and Milan, all spots with highly personal character references in the Shakespeare plays. De Vere met with Cervantes and Titian, and details about these men were not in libraries or generally known in England: but they appear in Shakespeare’s wortks.

So, the ultimate connection is whether Shakespeare and De Vere knew each other—had a literary and personal relationship that might account for the authorship being joint.

So many incidents are based on problems in De Vere’s life: from an unfaithful wife—to his odd bisexual hints in characters. His travels gave him insights into poison poured into a king’s ear and a noble with a younger male whispering in his ear.

De Vere had the attention of Queen Elizabeth (whom some hint) was a man in drag. He had married badly into the Lord Cecil family, but it didn’t stop him from burning through the equivalent of a million dollars in a year.

This excellent film ends asking us whether we have praised the wrong man for 400 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Again, Hysterical Satire

DATELINE: Reincarnation Mystery

kookoo mystery Kookoo Noir Takeoff

There was a time nearly 30 years ago when Kenneth Branagh was considered the reincarnation of Orson Welles, with a dollop of Laurence Olivier thrown into the mix.

So, the time has arrived to re-assess one of his early efforts called Dead Again from 1991.

He was a promising and brilliant director of unusual fare and acted well too. This looney mystery deviated from his usual Shakespearean play adaptations by entering the film noir, detective story, broadly copying Warner and Parmount features of the late 1940s.

What most missed back then was the fact that this overwrought tale of reincarnation and murder was overdone deliberately. We cannot believe Branagh was dumb enough to think this was not a comedy.

The film does double duty: telling a modern case of a detective Mike Church in LA today, and the strange killer, Roman Strauss, a composer and conductor of 1948, who was executed for murdering his wife. The black and white noir flashbacks are spot on for 1940s imitation. Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott are suitably channeled.

Branagh is a little weird as a detective (his reincarnated self) who is an LA sleuth with a Brooklyn accent. That might be the first mistake, or first clue.

The cast is equally impressive, with Emma Thompson as Strauss’s wife, the concert pianist victim, and the modern woman with amnesia that Church must help.

Call in Derek Jacobi as some kind of psychic hypnotist to regress the woman to 1948, and you have another brilliant performer slightly out of place in an American movie.

Also hanging around in cameos are Robin Williams, Scott Campbell, and Andy Garcia. This film is no slouch when it comes to top-level talent. Yes, Wayne Knight is here too.

We are a sucker when it comes to transgender resurrection and timeless love stories.

Everyone immediately notices that Emma Thompson resembles a woman dead in 1948, but no one seems to notice that Kenneth Branagh resembles her convicted murderer, executed in 1949.

Oh, well, that’s Life Magazine for you. In the meantime, the movie moves more and more toward utter lunacy, skipping over plot holes like hopscotch gone to bad karma.

We like our twist of reincarnation with a bitter of gender bending. Add some lemons and you have Branagh imitating Paramount and Warner Brothers murder mystery thrillers of the 1940s with panache. We are Between Two Worlds and the Two Mrs. Carrolls.

Like a warm British beer, this movie is all frothy, and the suds will make you queasy. It’s eye-rolling fun.

 

 

Kids Vicious: Old Gray Mares

DATELINE: TV MASHUP

 CAPTAIN PEACOCK & MR. HUMPHREYS, REDUX

Capt.Peacock&Mr.Humphreys

Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen are among the royalty of acting, having cut their chops doing roles on I, Claudius and Apt Pupil. McKellen is openly gay in real life, and Jacobi is relatively coy.

Now they have teamed up in their graybeard stage to play two minicing old queens living together for one of those amusing British comedy shows. Each episode is half-an-hour, and it is already on season two on British television.

We figured this series would not be Shakespeare (though McKellen’s character is a former Shakespearean actor).

What we found ourselves watching in Vicious is a retread of the old hilarious comedy called Are You Being Served? We love that old show about a British department store and the delightful salespeople in men’s and women’s wear, which ran for eight or nine seasons and returned with the characters as elderly retirees for one last hurrah.

Plagarism is alive and well. McKellen and Jacobi are elderly, openly gay, and living in bitchy humorland. They are also in the mold of the earlier series.

What we were unprepared to see is Derek Jacobi playing Mr. Humphreys, the fey sales clerk from the old show. He even has the tenor, the style, the speech patterns of the late actor John Inman. He must have studied the old reruns closely. And, the writers have stolen Mr. Humphreys always-unseen mother on the other end of the phone.

As for Ian McKellen, he seems to be playing Captain Peacock, the old show’s floorwalker, now transformed into a pompous old stage walker. They trade snide insults and have stayed together for half a century.

It’s the kind of show that could grow on one, but could also raise the hackles of gay political types looking for positive images of gay life with dignity.

There is little dignity in these proceedings, and precious few laughs too.