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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Will is an effervescent period drama about the young William Shakespeare. It can be surprisingly violent: men are tortured for beliefs (and sometimes for crimes), with on-screen torture including waterboarding, a disemboweling while the living victim screams and the torturer holds up his intestines, stabbings, and bludgeonings. A young boy self-harms when he hears his sister having sex in the bordello where she works. Sex is shown with moaning and thrusting as well as a man's naked backside; prostitutes work in houses and leer at men on the streets. Cursing and strong language includes "bastard," "c--k-blocking," and "s--t," as well as vintage slang: "piss off," "just another ass-wiping nobody," "shag off," "d--k-wit." Many scenes depict young people (in their 20s?) drinking and carousing. That said, it's a fun, modern telling of the Bard's rise to fame that older drama-loving teens should enjoy.
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What's the story?
In 1589, Protestant England is in revolt, with Catholics accused of treason, tortured, put to death. Young William Shakespeare (Laurie Davidson), also known as WILL, was born and raised a Catholic. But he has another dream besides just being allowed to practice his religion in peace: he wants to be a playwright, with cheering crowds and money to spare. He leaves his wife and three children at home, and embarks upon a fabulous career in London. Quickly established with the theater company of James Burbage (Colm Meaney) -- as well as more than a little pixilated by Burbage's daughter, Alice (Olivia DeJonge) -- Will becomes the toast of London. As well as the target of those who have dark plans for him, including rival playwright Christopher Marlowe (Jamie Campbell Bower) and nefarious, sad street urchin Presto (Lukas Rolfe).
Is it any good?
Crackling with good fun and sex appeal, this bio-series abandons strict historical accuracy (we've got Wikipedia for that!) for anachronistic music and a punk-rock vibe. It's all to the good. When a guy's plays require two pages of footnotes for each page of dialogue, the material could clearly use a little freshening up. Young Shakespeare is about as fresh-faced as they come; wide-eyed, too, on the wild streets of London, where he happens upon a theater troupe in need of some words to act out on stage. "Hey! I have words!" says Shakespeare, and we're off, toggling between the pleasingly zany antics of the all-male troupe of actors Shakespeare has hooked up with, the enraptured reception of the crowds of Mohawked Londoners, and the machinations of Marlowe and others who want to do our fellow wrong.
It sounds silly, and it is, but it's also glorious in its excesses, with shirtless pouty-lipped young men, swelling bosoms in tight bodices, retro stage-diving, villainous plans, romance, enthusiastic theater geeks, naughty young men and women drinking in bars and running around corners to kiss, a rap battle in period language that ends in the loser getting doused with beer. Surely staid 16th-century England wasn't this fun -- but it's great that this show is.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how William Shakespeare shows perseverance and curiosity in Will by writing his plays and bringing them to the stage despite pressure not to. How are these important character strengths?
Most shows or movies that attempt to dramatize the life of a respected famous person show them in a good light. Does this show present Shakespeare in a good light? Is he a good character? A bad one? A complex man? What evidence do you have for your choice?
Anachronisms are things that don't belong in the time period in which a production is set. What are some of the anachronisms in Will? Do they detract from the period feel or add to the show's overall entertainment value?
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