Shakespeare’s Diaries: A Very British Adventure (2016)

UK / 82 minutes / color / Steven Cutts, Bad Eden, Animus Dir: Charis Orchard Pr: Lee “Wozy” Warren, Charis Orchard, Ben Richards Scr: Steven Cutts Cine: Tansy Simpson Cast: Sophie Tergeist, Malcolm Modele, Peter Lewis Stevens, Dixie Arnold, Georgia Annable, Jack Harrison, Elliot Berry, Charlie Hunter, Daniel Skinner, George Rodd, James Littlewood, Ross James, Terry Perkins.

There are times when the watching of an indy movie can, so to speak, clear out the sinuses in a gust of fresh air after an oversaturation of Hollywood-style cinematic excesses. That cleansing effect can more than compensate for any deficiencies the movie might have as a result of budgetary stringency or otherwise.

And there are times when it doesn’t work out like that.

Sadly, Shakespeare’s Diaries falls into the latter category, although it’s not entirely without interest.

On his way to work one morning, Dr. Crispin Shakespeare (Modele), a young GP in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, is called to help a builder who’s fallen down a hole and broken his leg. Waiting for the ambulance, Crispin discovers a half-buried cache of mysteriously well preserved books.

Malcolm Modele as Crispin.

Yes! They’re the long-lost diaries that no one ever knew William Shakespeare kept!

Broke, Crispin has agreed to rent out a room to an actor visiting from New York to act with the Royal Shakespeare Company. This actor proves, on arrival, to be unexpectedly female: Lucy Bernstein (Tergeist). You can guess where this strand of the plot goes.

The British Museum calls in Arthur Kranz (Hunter), an American art expert, to help authenticate the diaries, even though they suspect he might be a crook. In fact, he’s an international art thief with a penchant for lethal violence. You can guess where this strand of the plot is going, too.

Sophie Tergeist as Lucy.

Crispin is part of an amateur dramatic troupe called, with hellish wit, The Cunning Linguists; the other three members are the troilistic Sarah (Annable), Duncan (Berry) and Harry (Harrison). They take Crispin’s latest play, Learning by Humiliation, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The RSC is putting on its production of Julius Caesar in the main festival, with Lucy as Calpurnia, so that’s nice.

The other three Cunning Linguists; left to right, Elliot Berry as Duncan, Georgia Annable as Sarah, and Jack Harrison as Harry.

Up to this point, while the movie’s been no masterpiece, marred primarily by some atrocious—and/or atrociously self-indulgent—acting among the support cast, it’s been fairly entertaining, but the Edinburgh excursion proves to be entirely purposeless, contributing nothing to the plot and nothing much to the movie as a whole except some embarrassing bedroom scenes. This tendency to jam in a bit of timid, supposedly witty raunch every now and then in an attempt to gee things up a bit—or perhaps just to bolster the running time—occurs here and there throughout Shakespeare’s Diaries. Given the choice between rolling my eyes and checking the cricket scores, I opted to check the cricket scores.

Charlie Hunter as Arthur Kranz.

With the help of Lucy and his pal Roger (Arnold), Crispin succeeds—no surprise here!—in thwarting Kranz, recovering the stolen diaries and demonstrating how carefree he is about putting bullets through the skulls of bad guys. In the process, the vicious Kranz is actually given a halfway decent line:

Kranz: “You’re probably one of those people who think that the whole world is a stage. From where I’m standing, these are the cheap seats.”

And so we sit back in excited expectation of the interesting part of the movie, of great revelations, of the answer to the question that’s been burning in us since the moment we first saw the movie’s title:

What’s in the flipping diaries, then?

And, believe it or not (and this had me rubbing my eyes all through the closing credits), we never find out. The diaries turn out to be nothing but a maguffin. It’s a colossal failure of the creative imagination to have let this happen. It’s as if Agatha Christie announced at the end of a novel that Poirot had been unable to solve the mystery so they all went off down the pub instead. We don’t even have a resolution of the relationship between Crispin and Lucy: Have they become an item or was it just a quick flingette?

Dixie Arnold as Roger.

Leaving the plot aside—which seems to have been the approximate attitude of the scriptwriter, toward the end—the other main problem the movie has is, as hinted, among the performances. Tergeist, Modele and Arnold are perfectly adequate in their roles, and Hunter is actually quite good, but even their moms couldn’t say the same about some of the rest of the cast. There’s way too much overacting, especially from actors who seem to think accents of the “jolly hockey sticks, old blighter, what?” variety are inherently funny. The cast of what’s supposed to be an RSC production of Julius Caesar follow the general trend.

Tansy Simpson’s cinematography and especially Stewart Dugdale’s soundtrack are among the highpoints of the movie: the former is always very serviceable, with some lovely moments illuminating the rest, while the latter matches the onscreen action very neatly and often pushes it along.

Shakespeare’s Diaries is a curio, and worth watching on that basis alone. If you go in with low expectations you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

The Athens of the North.

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