Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet transformed a young generation into Shakespeare fans. Dan Poole and Giles Terera were training at Mountview at the time of the film’s release. They previously weren’t keen on Shakespeare’s plays what with their difficult language and having to read them at school. But, Romeo + Juliet changed all that.
These avid Shakespeare buffs joined forces to make a documentary that explores why people don’t like Shakespeare, and to make the Bard more accessible to those ruling him out as boring or irrelevant. Over four years, Terera and Poole travelled around the world and interviewed prominent actors, audience members, people on the street and passionate theatre makers about their attitudes towards Shakespeare. Funny and relaxed, Muse of Fire feels more like a goofy road trip with your mates rather than a dry, academic film as the passion and love for Shakespeare’s work always shines through.
A mix of untreated, shaky home video and professionally shot interviews provides a good balance between the lighthearted and the more serious moments. There’s still a sense that a lot of time passes, and the four years was not all sunshine and roses for the pair. At one point when desperately low on cash, Poole takes on some building work to pay the bills. Then the car breaks down on their way to interview Dame Judi Dench. On the other hand, they travel to Germany to watch pioneering Shakespeare work with convicts, meet the great and the good from UK theatre and beyond, and make it to LA to interview the man that converted them to Shakespeare to begin with. It’s a feel-good film with a few overly sentimental moments, but these are forgivable what with their boundless, puppy-like enthusiasm.
The highlights of the 80-odd minutes are definitely the anecdotes and insight from actors like Dench, Tom Hiddleston, Ben Kingsley, Fiona Shaw, Christopher Eccleston, Ian McKellen and many others. Unfortunately, it feels like more of these prominent theatre makers are male than female (though I’d have to watch it again to count those who made it past the final edit). Audience interviews seem more balanced. Their opinions vary as to how to approach a script, deal with iambic pentameter and why they feel the plays are still relevant today but the range of views presented should reach even the most hardened skeptics.
Muse of Fire is a true joy to watch, particularly if you love Shakespeare and the work of some of the best, most established performers in the UK and abroad. Over an hour of extras also back up Poole and Terera’s goal of Shakespeare appealing to everyone, regardless of language, nationality and background.