Reviews

A Quiet, Profoundly Effective Film

11 November 2012
Mark Krasselt, United States

The miasma that is the Authorship Question is fraught with twists and turns, accusations and counter-accusations, tom-foolery and skulduggery, Elizabethan codes and battle Royals whose stakes may seem academic but to the participants very real indeed. In fact, it is hard to separate the modern from the historical, and a pattern of intrigue not too dissimilar from the "Shakespearean" Canon itself. "Last Will. And Testament" is an all-around brilliant film, not flashy, not terribly ground- breaking when it comes to cinematic technique, but tells a complicated story simply, eloquently, sticking to essential details without getting mired in overkill. It's obvious the film could be a 10-part miniseries but, to the uninitiated, for whom this film is really meant, is a perfect start to an incredible story. Liberal sprinklings of the scenes from "Anonymous" avidly help fill the pictorial void of too many talking heads, although it should be said that nothing what they say is wasted, all of it compelling, and each person vivid and real. 

Told mainly from the Oxfordian point-of-view, it's a pretty convincing outline of the major issues from start to finish, offering a nice historical overview of Elizabethan England to start— not the nicest place to be, politically speaking; "off with their heads" was a phrase heard and performed often to non-believers—and moving through the known history of William Shaksper (not much), the authorship question itself, and the likely candidate—Edward de Vere —and the many pieces of puzzle that form the final picture.

Along the way, we are treated to observances from many experts on both sides—more from the Oxfordian view than the Stratfordian side.

The film makes many small, wonderful points throughout, not in a hard-hitting way, but subtly, intellectually, almost unfurling rather than documenting. Beautifully photographed, warmly edited, and nicely told, it's a great start for the uninformed, and bodes well for the future.

If there is a fault—and this is a very minor one—it's that the film is almost too polite. It postulates very plausible, fully realized coincidences and connections and allows both sides their say but never in the company of someone who disagrees with them. The interviewer is unseen and unheard and is never Socratically engaged, trying to draw the interviewee out of their comfort zones, trying to illicit the "big reveal." In an age of Michael Moore confrontation, this is a positive—almost antiquated respite—it manages this well, and allows the film to tell a story without being didactic about it. Even so, just a little back & forth questioning of the interviewees would have been nice and not particularly unwarranted, while still treating the subject with the reverence it requires and not allowing experts from either side blind exposure to their opinions. 

That said, the two Stratfordians come across as fine scholars and gentlemen but who have still, essentially, missed the boat. They resolutely cling to their story like a boy caught with their hand in a cookie jar who deny the truth even while sent to the corner. Stanley Wells fares worst—his statement that Cecil is NOT Polonius in Hamlet is amongst his worst obfuscations, as is his claim than anything Shakespeare needed to know was taught to him in his grade school at Stratford-on-Avon, even though the level of knowledge contained within in the plays, as any expert can attest, is so specific to higher learning amongst the royals and the worlds best tutors, that no commoner could ever have had that kind of access. To them, Shakespeare just was, and then wasn't. Burning brightly for a short time, he lived, wrote, and died in a vacuum. Hardly the very soul of mankind whose plays were about courtly matters (he didn't have access to), travel to remote parts of the world (he'd never been to), or numerous and specific references to books (in languages he didn't understand), and on and on and on.

The film wraps up nicely with the de Vere heirs and their direct connection to the original publications of the First Folio, even mentioning the less-famous river Avon that runs close by and through a little town called Stratford-sub-Castle near Wilton House (the ancestral home of the de Veres)—a clear jab to those who believe that Jonson meant the more famous one at Stratford-on-Avon when he penned the words 'the sweet Bard of Avon' and not this modest river which, intellectually and geographically, makes all the sense in the world. 

New evidence of de Vere's lengthy trip to the continent, and how this translated into the plays is presented. The film every-so-briefly touches upon the Prince Tudor theories I & II and how this has diluted —if not set back the cause a bit—the message of the Oxfordians. The Sonnets and their place in history as last gasp of a dying, forgotten man-who-would-be-king is an especially poignant, tear-jerking part of the documentary. 

The Stratfordians, clearly, do not have much of an intellectual leg to stand on—the weakness of their arguments is in plain sight for all to see—as the preponderance of best evidence slowly moves from Stratford-on-Avon (and has for sometime in reality) and settles into the very heart of Elizabethan England, directly in the heart of courtiers and gentlemen, and points to a supremely flawed man possessed of singular, titanic knowledge, wit, and courage, whose writing has spanned the Ages and is directly responsible for much about the genius of man, but whose mortal coil is destined (hopefully for not too much longer) to remain metaphorically boxed in the ground, suffering his fame and genius not in silence but through the great words and scenes of his stage plays.

The Most Beautiful, Eloquent and Almost Mesmerizing Film I have seen on this great subject: Who was Shakespeare?

Alan Austin, PBS Frontline, The Shakespeare Mystery

Last Will and Testament is the most beautiful, eloquent and almost mesmerizing film I have seen on this great subject: Who was Shakespeare? Not only is their case overwhelming, it’s easy to follow and impossible to refute.  The Stratfordians try their best and are given ample opportunity to do it but come across as almost pathetic, as though begging the audience to believe that it doesn’t really matter who the author was.  And that plea no longer works, because burgeoning new research now reveals that knowing the true author’s identity profoundly changes the meaning of some of the plays as well as our understanding of that period of history. I believe that even those who have never given a thought to the authorship “question” will find Last Will and Testament a moving experience.  I also have the feeling that this film, given enough exposure, will deliver the knockout punch to the Stratford apologists and send them back to school for a proper education. 

Clear and Convincing

20 April 2012
Howard Schumann from Vancouver, B.C.

"There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true." - Søren Kierkegaard

Directed by Lisa Wilson and Laura Wilson Matthias with Roland Emmerich as the Executive Producer, the 84-minute film Last Will and Testament documents the life of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, making a compelling case for his authorship of the works of William Shakespeare. Shot in 32 locations in both the U.S., and the U.K., the film was five years in the making with 253,000 words of interviews being recorded before editing. It was conceived as a factual complement to the fiction film Anonymous and as an antidote to those who claim that the Emmerich film is a "far-fetched fantasy." 

Using clips from Anonymous to enhance the film's dramatic aspects, the documentary includes interviews with Oxfordians and Stratfordian spokespersons and discussion of key issues and events pertinent to the authorship debate. The first part of the film discusses the orthodox candidate, William "Shaksper" of Stratford, and the reasons that argue against his authorship of the canon.

The second section is devoted to the life of Edward de Vere, the main alternative candidate, describing his roots, his education, his life as a courtier, and the circumstances that led to his use of a pseudonym in his literary output. Author Charles Beauclerk said that Oxford was a more credible poet and playwright than William of Stratford. Even though he preferred anonymity to fame, he could not resist leaving clues as to his true identity in his work. 

Beauclerk also made the comment that it was Oxford who instigated the English Renaissance and that "if we get Shakespeare wrong, we get the entire Renaissance period wrong as well." The third part of the film describes and dramatizes the totalitarian nature of the Elizabethan monarchy, the issue of succession that sparked the Essex Rebellion, the biographical connection of Edward de Vere to the plays and poems of William Shakespeare, and the roles of Queen Elizabeth I and Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton.

Anti-Stratfordian contributors include a wide cross-section of the community: 

Actors: Mark Rylance, Derek Jacobi, and Vanessa Redgrave

Authors: Charles Beauclerk (Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom), Diana Price (Shakespeare's Unauthorized Biography), G. J. Meyer, (The Tudors), and Hank Whittemore (The Monument) 

Professors: Roger Stritmatter PhD,Coppin College, Dr. William Leahy, Brunel University, Associate Prof. Michael Delahoyde, Washington State University, and Prof. Daniel Wright, Director, Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre, Concordia University Other spokespersons include Jon Culverhouse, Curator of Collections & Conservation at Burghley House, Michael Cecil, 8th Marquess of Exeter (descendant of Elizabethan statesman William Cecil,Lord Burghley), and William Boyle, Librarian at New England Shakespeare Oxford Library.

Two of the highest-profile Stratfordians, Stanley Wells, Honorary Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and Jonathan Bate, Oxford University were given film time to state their views. Others, such as James Shapiro, were approached but declined to be interviewed.

Last Will and Testament is a very informative, entertaining, and thought-provoking film, no matter which side of the debate you are on. Directors Wilson and Matthias were motivated by their concern for the truth, whether it turned out to be reassuring or upsetting to some. To paraphrase Belgian playwright, poet and essayist Maurice Maeterlinck, a truth that may be uncomfortable to some ultimately has more value than the most consoling falsehood.

While the Oxfordian case is clearly and convincingly made in the film, the authorship issue remains a towering literary mystery. Only the closed-minded have certainty. Ultimately the film requires us to assess the information to form our own opinion, to call upon our knowledge, intuition, logic, and common sense to make our own decision. When one can be comfortable with the mystery of not knowing, truth inexorably and inscrutably will reveal itself into the light. In that respect, Last Will and Testament challenges us more profoundly than ever.

Best Documentary on Shakespearean Authorship Ever Made

21 September 2012
William Ray, United States

I knew a good deal about this subject-matter before I saw the film, but I have never seen so compelling, complete, and aesthetically powerful a depiction of the history and facts. In addition to use of the 'Anonymous' commercial film scenes for atmosphere, 'Last Will and Testament' produces actual documents to illustrate its arguments. The interviews are convincing. One can literally go back in history and vicariously trace the events surrounding the concealment of the Shakespeare canon's shadowy author. That Shakspere of Stratford was not the author seems plain on its face. He became "famous" only after the fact, which indicates the invention of a contrived figure to replace the original writer. He had no recorded talent, background, interest, motivation, time, or capacity for the phenomenal achievements he was asserted to have accomplished. As to who did have all of these and who devoted his life to creating and financing the English Renaissance, that is a spectacular and tragic tale that has never been told. It is limned out in the documentary: a creative and athletic prodigy, perhaps the most learned person in the Elizabethan age, but a nobleman so mysteriously close to the monarchy and so freely critical of the English government that he constituted a threat to the legitimacy of the young English nation-state. This may be the background for necessarily arranging to re-attribute the Shakespeare canon authorship.

The film does not conclude matters for the viewer but presents the information to be considered. I was enthralled and wished it had been longer, --as well it might be with more sponsorship. It ought to be honored with an Academy Award for Best Documentary. An artistic and honorable contribution toward understanding the primary literary fraud at the center of Western culture. It will provide grounds to re-order our traditional concept of Elizabeth I and "Shakespeare", as well as the era in which they lived.

A Fantastic Intro to the Shakepseare Authorship Question

2 November 2012
John-2761

I have been interested in this topic on-and-off for 25 years. This documentary is a FABULOUS introduction to the topic. It has a great cast of thespians (all of whom are interested in the topic), great scholars (on both sides of the issue) and some of the best production values I have ever seen in a small independent film...A++

One note: This is meant to be an educational film which introduces the topic to the general public. As such, even at 126 minutes, it only scratches the surface of this fascinating area of research. I consider this film to be sort of a world-class appetizer prepared by a Top Chef....and, as such, it will likely serve to stimulate one's appetite for even more "brain food".

Warning: Prepare for an intellectual feast...but one which just MAY prove very addicting.

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