About the episode
Joseph, probably uniquely, has his own perspective on this play. He played Shakespeare “playing” Romeo in the film Shakespeare in Love. But he doesn’t see it as a 400-year-old masterpiece – he sees it as a play that has more modern relevance than almost any of Shakespeare’s works, and he wants to examine why it remains the most adapted and performed of all his plays.
In the programme, Joseph goes with the play to a South London school and then to adult evening classes, where the participants see their own lives reflected in the story. This is not just a piece of 16th Century “heritage”, it is alive and well today.
“But this is a 400-year-old love story – can it be relevant to us today?” - Joseph Fiennes
The play has been adapting itself to the world in which we live, ever since it was first written. It is not an original tale. We discover where Shakespeare found the story, in an obscure English poetic translation of an even older Italian story. Shakespeare adapted and dramatised that poem and Joseph looks at how other writers have been adapting and dramatising it ever since.
We ask modern actors like Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad, who played the roles in New York this year, about the continuing power of the play and its poetry. And Jospeh looks at other Romeos and Juliets, from Zeferelli’s 1968 Italian masterpiece to Baz Luhrman’s extraordinary American re-imagination. We see how Shakespeare takes a story of lost chances and missed opportunities and turns it into one of the greatest love stories ever told – so much so that just the names of the two lovers are recognised throughout the world.
Joseph talks to writer Bonnie Greer about the tragic dangers of this story. Every year tormented lovers, who see a version of their own story told in Shakespeare’s masterpiece, tragically and desperately take their own lives. But Joseph sees another and more hopeful message coming from the play. A message that remains hugely and positively relevant today - the power of love.
My Shakespeare starts on Monday 22nd September at 9pm on Sky Arts 1 HD.