IN SEARCH OF SHAKESPEARE (DVD 2003)
There are myths that William Shakespeare never existed, that this was just a pen name for some nobleman who wrote plays and poems as a hobby. Michael Wood's excellent exploration comprehensively demolishes these as he strides across the English landscape to trace the life history of a stage struck Warwickshire lad who conquered the London stage scene.
However there is far more to this tale than Shakespeare himself, not just his life but his times, his very troubled times. England was in transition from a medieval catholic society to a renaissance protestant state, a state in which what you said or wrote could end in horrific execution - as was the fate of some of young William's close relatives.
It is the tale of a boy brought up in the old faith coming to terms with the new order. In this respect he comes to stand for all those of our ancestors who lived through that time and helps us to understand how this painful transformation came about.
As for Michael Wood he is clearly as at home in the English landscape following in the footsteps of a literary hero as he is amongst the ruins of Troy or the mountains of Iran or Afghanistan in search of historic military leaders. His enthusiasm is as ever boundless and his understated humour as winning as ever.
Then there are the exuberant "lovies" of the Royal Shakespeare Company, on tour at many of the locations where Elizabethan plays were acted out, performing not only the Bard's plays but giving us an insight into the pre- Shakespearian theatre and the works of his contemporaries and rivals.
You only have to see the faces of the modern audience to see that the magic still works and it still has the power to move.
We meeting "The Queen's Men", young Will's first performing company employed to put over the government's message and whip-up patriotic fervour ready to fight the Spanish Armada. We meet Christopher Marlow "hip,gay,iconoclastic " Shakespeare's greatest rival, who met his end knifed to death in a small room in Deptford. "In 1593 there were worse things than a bad review" as Wood reminds us.
All this is under-pinned by documentary research and Wood takes obvious delight in showing us the original records, from school registers to court and parish records, theatre takings, critics reviews, inquest findings, rolls, lists, receipts. The mundane becomes fascinating and it is as if he has found a gold nugget amongst the silt.
Then there are the locations. To anyone born in England they too are often mundane, but take on a magical quality when we are told that on this spot there once stood a house,an inn, a theatre. More amazing is what remains, not just in picturesque Stratford-on-Avon and the countryside of Arden, but even in London. A workshop or store room that was once a theatre, the Church where Shakespeare worshiped, now in the shadow of "The Gherkin" and other glass and steel edifices. There is even the room - perhaps - where Marlow died (if you will indulge the presenter's imagination a little). We must acknowledge the camera work and lighting, which lend atmosphere.
There has been so much written concerning Shakespeare over the years, so much speculation, some of it sensationalised some of it highly academic. This exploration gets back to basics and if it can interest the likes of me in Shakespeare then it can interest anyone. As a great fan of all of Michael Wood's work I think that this is the best thing he has yet done, and it surprises me to say so.