Being a devotee of the late writer-historian Calvin Hoffman and owner of his impressive out-of-print book, "The Murder of the Man Who was Shakespeare," I found this documentary to be of mixed quality.
Instead of building the case from the ground up, this docu began with superficial bits and pieces, and continued this approach through almost half of its duration.
In attempting to avoid a standard "talking head interview" approach and to keep things moving, the director apparently asked interviewees to go about their normal routines while being photographed.
Thus, we have people trying to make definitive statements on Shakespeare and Marlowe while digging with a shovel, eating a meal, doing office work, and driving a car. There was constant cross-cutting editing, resulting in various snatches of "pro-con" expressions, with one ineffectively trying to cancel out the other.
Somehow all of this got pretty disjointed and erratic, leaving the viewer with a less than clear understanding. Hoffman's "parallellisms," utterly striking in his text, is weakly presented here, with two actors alternatingly delivering Marlowe and Shakespeare quotations. However, these excerpts are not inscribed with source references, nor are the chosen examples as remarkably similar as those in the Hoffman text.
Random cameo interviews with pedestrians on the street merely add an "evening news touch," without much substance. The enactment of the kind of physical torture Marlowe faced unless he exiled himself is disturbingly gross and brutal; this could have been done better through descriptive words and/or illustrations--as it is, the horror makes more impact than the documentary's basic thesis.
The one thing this Frontline/PBS attempt has going for it is its uniqueness: there have been few visual programs on the Shakespeare-Marlowe controversy, and one is grateful for this effort. Another more solid and better executed work on this significant subject is most welcome.
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