By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
As schoolboys, Giles Terera and Dan Poole were made to feel that Shakespeare wasn’t for them – as actors, they now feel very differently. This documentary follows Dan and Giles over the course of four years on their extraordinary journey around the world trying to get to the heart of the greatest storyteller of all. Along the way, they meet acting royalty, including Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Ralph Fiennes, James Earl Jones and Jude Law.
Now streaming on Acorn TV, “Muse of Fire: A Shakespearean Road Movie” makes understanding the works of William H. Shakespeare just a bit easier.
Terera and Poole, two London actors, journey around the globe to demystify the greatest storyteller of all. They travel with Jude Law’s Hamlet in Denmark, fight their way to Baz Luhrmann in Hollywood, do time with Shakespeare in an Irish prison, get close up with Al Pacino’s King Lear, and glean insights from famous actors and everyday people.
Distinguished veteran English actor Sir Ian McKellen said that “it’s difficult to do these 400-year-old plays,” because the words are obsolete and hard.
Other people on the street throughout London and particularly after seeing MacBeth or some other works were succinct in their comments: “Some plays are boring.” “He must have had a lot of time on his hands.”
After the pair traveled to Denmark and tracked Law down, he shared that he felt a bit of intimidation playing Hamlet in Denmark, in the very castle where Shakespeare set the play. “Not letting the legacy land hard on your shoulders is quite hard,” he said.
“It’s a language that we don’t understand, he wrote elegant lines about sleep,” said Dame Dench, referring to the line “sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care” from MacBeth. This interview almost didn’t happen because the car that the pair were traveling in broke down right as they were preparing to drive to Dame Dench’s home.
American actor James Earl Jones, who has played many Shakespearean roles such as Othello, King Lear and Claudius in Hamlet, said that one of his uncles used to recite Shakespeare. “Suddenly he would sound like an old-time Black preacher.”
Terera and Poole were giddy when they caught up with the first Black Poet Laureate Rita Dove in Charlottesville, Virginia. She said that she discovered Shakespeare at the age of 10, because her mom would recite his works. “Is that a dagger I see before me,” Dove said her mom would say while slicing the roast beef.
The works of Shakespeare and the man himself are equally as important in the canon of literature. Everyone who interviewed for this film—whether they understood the works or not—agreed that the works are important, albeit a bit outdated for some.
Actress Fiona Shaw said that Shakespeare was an extravagant writer, “and people are terrified of extravagance.” This seemed strange, since he wrote about love, jealousy, ambition and weakness, which aren’t fancy notions.
When Poole and Terera arrived in Hollywood to interview Luhrmann, they could only afford a meager hotel that just happened to be the hotel where Janis Joplin took her life. The cruddy arrangements and murky water were tolerable, since the next day they found themselves in luxury while chatting with Luhrmann, the director of a film version of “Romeo and Juliet.” The film celebrates 25 years since its premiere on the big screen this year.
And although Luhrmann’s intent was to make a film that would appeal to the masses—those who loved or disliked the works, that film, or any other, couldn’t downplay the importance of “The Bard.”
“I knew it was something to be taken seriously,” said actor John Hurt.