“You are a curiosity”
American versions of Shakespeare (whether his plays or the man himself) are always worth looking up, even if only for a chuckle and new TNT TV series Will is certainly no exception. There’s some weight behind it – it was created by Craig Pearce, the longtime writing partner of filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and has Shekhar Kapur, who directed the award-winning Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, directing and executive producing and in the role of the Bard himself, there’s a potentially star-making role for British newcomer Laurie Davidson.
I watched the first two episodes and they sure make an arresting introduction. You feel Luhrmann’s influence almost immediately as this is no antiquated version of a sedate Elizabethan London, but rather it is one shot through with bright colours and a punk-filled attitude. Literally so, as they have conceived the burgeoning theatre scene of the time as being akin to the contemporary(ish) world of punk rock – theatres filled with patrons in leather and mohicans, the soundtrack filled with the Clash and drunken singalongs to Lou Reed.
As a concept, it kinda works in making this an entirely atypical historical drama and I have to say I think I might continue tuning in, not least because it features the fantastic Nancy Carroll in a recurring role as Ellen Burbage and because I can rarely resist daftness. The writers can’t resist loading up every scene with one Shakespearean allusion or another, or even just direct lines of dialogue, and it is done so blatantly, with so little subtlety, that it’s almost fun trying to guess which play is going to get referenced next.
This lack of subtlety extends to the performances too – Ewen Bremner is having the time of his life as investigator Richard Topcliffe and William Houston is no less fruity as star of the stage Will Kemp. Jamie Campbell Bower looks set to be a manipulative Kit Marlowe, Clive Rowe is in there doing work beneath him, and if Davidson and Olivia DeJonge as putative illicit love interest Alice are taking their time to make a similar impression, they’re making a solid enough start. You even get Amanda Lawrence onscreen for a heartbeat!