Shakespeare Uncovered Series Returns to PBS, Beginning January 30, With All-Star Hosts in Six "Behind-the-Scenes" Films of the Bard’s Greatest Plays
By: Ellis Nassour
returns for a second season on PBS, beginning January 30 at 9 P.M. – and continues the following two successive Fridays. The series combines history, biography, iconic performances by starry hosts, new insights into six more works of the Bard. Hugh Bonneville, Kim Cattrall, Joseph Fiennes, Morgan Freeman, David Harewood, and Christopher Plummer will host and tell the stories behind the stories.
The new season investigates A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and The Taming of the Shrew. The telecasts are accompanied by a website.
Produced by Blakeway Productions, 116 Films and THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET in association with PBS, Sky Arts and Shakespeare’s Globe, each episode reveals the still-potent impact of the Bard’s plays. The films combine interviews with actors, directors and scholars, along with visits to key locations, clips from some of the most-celebrated film and TV adaptations, and excerpts from plays staged for the series at Shakespeare’s Globe.
Each host has a personal connection with the play they present. Christopher Plummer is one of the great Lears; Kim Cattrall has played Cleopatra twice on the English stage; and Morgan Freeman has taken on The Taming of the Shrew’s Petruchio at New York’s Shakespeare in the Park; Joseph Fiennes portrayed Romeo in the Academy Award-winning film Shakespeare in Love; Hugh Bonneville began his career as an understudy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; David Harewood [Homeland] was an acclaimed Othello at London’s National Theatre- the first black actor to play the role there.
Behind every Shakespeare play there is a story. Shakespeare Uncovered reveals not just the elements in the play, but the history. What sparked the creation of each of these works? Where did Shakespeare get his plots? What new forms of theater did he forge? What cultural, political and religious factors influenced his writing? How have the plays been staged and interpreted from Shakespeare’s time to now? Why at different times has each play been so popular – or ignored? And What makes Shakespeare so great?
The six episodes will air as follows:
January 30, 9 P.M., A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hugh Bonneville, Ralph Finnes
The hosts try to untangle the extraordinary plot of one of Shakespeare’s most enduringly popular plays, a great comedy of love and enchantment.
It’s thought the play might have been performed as part of a wedding celebration, and the Globe actors perform in the stately ruins of Copped Hall next to the site of the original structure which may have been the play’s venue. The play’s final scene, in which Bottom and his fellow mechanicals perform a dreadfully bad version of a Romeo & Juliet-like story, is one of the best-loved scenes in all of Shakespeare. Hugh meets up with actor David Walliams, who is about to play Bottom, and looks back on James Cagney’s performance in the 1935 film. There are clips from the landmark Peter Brook production and the BBC’s 1980 production with Helen Mirren as Titania; and commentary from Julie Taymor, who recently staged the play at Brooklyn’s Theater for a New Audience , which starred Harewood.
10 P.M., King Lear, Christopher Plummer
Ian McKellen and Simon Russell Beale share their insights into this often-difficult character. Plummer examines what inspired Shakespeare to write a play about a kingdom divided – at a delicate moment when new King James of Scotland was trying to create what has become the "united kingdom." It’s reckoned that the storm scenes might have been produced at Shakespeare’s own theatre, and how they represent the storm going on in Lear’s mind.
February 6, 9 P.M., The Taming of the Shrew, Morgan Freeman
It was one of Shakespeare’s first plays and seems to have been too brutal for audiences. Some found it uncomfortable to watch. Freeman notes this play has set the template for all of the battle-of-the-sexes comedies that have followed; many a romantic comedy has it running through its veins.
10 p.m., Othello, David Harewood
We learn about the Moorish ambassador who visited the court of Queen Elizabeth I and may have inspired Shakespeare. There’s a visit with the National’s latest Othello, Adrian Lester, who starred in a play about Ira Aldridge, the 19th-century American actor, the first black to play the role in England, with reviews that were shockingly racist; different Othellos on film, including Laurence Olivier’s acclaimed if controversial "blacked-up" 60s version.
Friday, February 13, 9 P.M., Antony and Cleopatra, Kim Cattrall
10 P.M., Romeo and Juliet, Joseph Fiennes
Richard Denton and Nicola Stockley produced for Blakeway Productions, with Fiona Stourton as exec producer. Bill O’Donnell is THIRTEEN’s series producer.
Shakespeare Uncovered is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Major funding was provided by The Joseph & Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, Dana and Virginia Randt, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, the Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Polonsky Foundation, Rosalind P. Walter, Jody and John Arnhold, the Corinthian International Foundation, PBS, and TV viewers.