Review: Ghostlight


Let me get this out of the way first – we need more movies like Ghostlight. It’s neither “movie version of Shakespeare” nor “modern adaptation.” It’s a regular movie, with a plot of its own, that happens to use Shakespeare as a backdrop to tell its story. I will always watch movies like this.


I only heard about this movie about a week or two ago, so I’m excited that I got to see it so quickly. All I knew was that it’s a family drama, where the actors who play the family are in fact a real-life family, and that a production of Romeo and Juliet is central to the plot. I’m in.

Something’s wrong with this family. Dan, the father, walks through his construction worker job like a ghost. His daughter, Daisy, has run out of chances at school and now teeters on the edge of expulsion. And Sharon, the mom, tries valiantly to keep the family together when it’s obviously falling apart. Something’s happened to these people. There’s talk of a lawsuit that none of them are sure they are ready for. They scream at each other for seemingly random reasons at the drop of a hat.

Through a series of fortunate(?) events, Dan finds himself unwillingly volunteered to help out the community theatre group that’s been practicing in the abandoned movie theatre across from the street he’s been jackhammering. They’re doing Romeo and Juliet and need a Lord Capulet, though as the story progresses and we learn the characters, roles ultimately shift.

From there, you probably know how it goes. This is a story about the healing, bonding, and cathartic power of not just Shakespeare but theatre in general. There are many scenes of silly rehearsals as Dan loosens up around his new adopted family. Most of them behave as if they’ve never done Shakespeare, admitting freely that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Dan even asks his daughter if she knows the play (the daughter, on cue, recites the prologue that she had to memorize for AP English) and how it ends. If this had been a movie about learning to express your emotions through art, Shakespeare would have been replaced with oils or pastels. He’s just the medium.

It’s being praised in places as one of the year’s best movies, but I won’t go that far. It’s disjointed in its plot, with some loose ends that don’t get resolved. In a movie where the best acting is done when characters are screaming at each other, the scenes where they’re trying to be funny come up short. Some important details are held back, but as soon as a little bit is revealed you can begin to put the whole story together.

The Shakespeare’s not great. Too often the script is cut, so if like me you’re there whispering along with the lines you’ll be frustrated at all the random cuts. If you do see it, I thought that literally the best moment of Shakespeare was when the mom asks the dad to recite some for her. It was hesitant and awkward and beautiful because of how honest it was. He whispered after, “I won’t do it like that on stage,” and I said aloud, “No, do it exactly like that.”

Ultimately, it’s where the story does not play into expectations that it’s at its best precisely because of how honest and real it is, and that’s where it gets the praise. This is a small group of over 50-year-olds doing a play about teenage suicide. The audience, right along with the other characters in the movie, has to get past the shallow physical aspect to the essence of what theatre is all about. Peter Brook had a famous quote like, “When a man walks across a bare stage, and another man watches him, that is all that’s needed for theatre.” This is what I thought as our construction worker first walked into the theatre. I thought, “Whatever he does and however he does it, that’s the story I want to watch.”

Parts are frustrating. I’ve never been an actor, never done the silly rehearsing exercises (“red ball! RED BALL!”), but even I threw my hands up in the air when the director invited a new member into the group and said, “Pick any role you want.” I only later realized that one of the existing members was doing something of a Nick Bottom, trying to claim every role for himself, who got continually frustrated as they were taken from him. But come on, these people presumably auditioned (it says so in the dialogue). You don’t insult them by telling a newcomer they can have whatever role they want.

See this one if you can. It’s no triumph of Shakespearean acting, but that’s the whole point. It’s not about the quality of the performance, it’s about the humanity that anybody can bring to the task whether they’re actually any good at it by some objective standard.

Shakespeare For Kids – Free on Kindle (for a Limited Time!)

Disclaimer – I was sent a press release, I have not personally read these books. My kids are a little old for the intended audience now, anyway. But they’re legit free, at least for an introductory period, so it’s an opportunity to grab them if you’re looking for some material for the 6 – 12 age group.

Welcome to “Shakespeare for Kids” – a delightful book series that brings the magic of William Shakespeare’s timeless stories to life for a younger audience! Our series opens up the world of classic literature, making it accessible, engaging, and heaps of fun for children to explore.

Shakespaere For Kids Hamlet

Perfect for young readers aged 6-12, as well as for parents and teachers who wish to introduce the Bard’s masterpieces in an approachable manner, “Shakespeare for Kids” ensures that learning about literature is both educational and entertaining.

Shakespeare For Kids Romeo and Juliet

Let your children’s adventure with the greatest playwright of all time begin today! Pick up a “Shakespeare for Kids” book and let the curtain rise on their exciting journey through the timeless world of William Shakespeare.

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Guest Post : Zounds, A Rat!

Dana Gower has been a follower of ShakespeareGeek for years, mostly via Facebook, and often sends me interesting links and curiosities. He runs his own page ShaksperFauxFest. Ask him his thoughts on Sonnet 136 if you get the chance. When he sent me his thoughts on an interesting Mercutio/Marlowe connection I offered him the opportunity for a guest post!

Did William Shakespeare publicly accuse Queen Elizabeth and her advisers of ordering the murder of Christopher Marlowe?

On May 30, 1593, Marlowe died after being stabbed at a Deptford inn. The London theaters were closed at the time due to the plague, but shortly after they reopened, Shakespeare presented a new play. Not everyone may agree, but it appears fairly certain that “Romeo and Juliet” was presented in 1594 (not 1597), and that the character of Mercutio was included in order to allow Shakespeare to mention Marlowe’s death.

Christopher "Kit" Marlowe
Mercutio? Is that you?

There are a number of hints throughout the play tying Marlowe to Mercutio, but there is one stunning phrase that makes Shakespeare’s intent clear. It tends to be overlooked by, and can be confusing to, modern audiences, but it would have been clear to many of Shakerspeare’s own. Early in the play, Tybalt, the character who will kill Mercutio, has been called “more than the prince of cats” and the “king of cats.” The reference is to a series of animal tales, still popular in Shakespeare’s time, that included a cat variously named Tybalt, Tybert, or Tibert. Shakespeare clearly has named Tybalt as the cat. As he dies, Mercutio calls out, “Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat, to scratch a man to death.” That phrase is a reference to a piece of doggerel from the time of King Richard III, which would have been well-known to Shakespeare, writer of the English history plays, and to many in his audience:

“The Rat, the Cat, and Lovell, our Dog
Rule over England under the Hog.”

The Hog, of course, was Richard, whose personal badge was the white boar. The Rat, the Cat, and Lovell, the Dog, represent Richard’s closest advisers. The Rat is Sir Richard Ratcliffe. The Cat is William Catesby. A descendent of Catesby’s, Robert Catesby, would one day become a leader in the Gunpowder Plot against King James the First and members of Parliament. Francis Lovell, First Viscount Lovell, was a longtime supporter and close friend of Richard’s. His heraldic device was the white wolf, but the poem probably was referring to him as Richard’s lapdog. These men were the closest of Richard’s inner circle.

If you move these positions up to Shakespeare’s own time, you have Queen Elizabeth and her own inner circle of advisers, with Queen Elizabeth taking the part of the Mouse. I don’t know which of her advisers were meant to take the place of the Dog, the Cat, and the Rat, but it really doesn’t matter. By having Mercutio label Tybalt, his killer, as the Cat, Shakespeare clearly is laying Marlowe’s death squarely at their feet.
Shakespeare’s response to Marlowe’s death, an act of incredible courage, had no immediate effect. Marlowe, of course, was still dead. None of the men said to have been with him at the time were ever held to account, and no one else dared, as far as I can tell, to publicly tie his death to the queen. Still, Shakespeare had made his point: “We are watching.”

I’ve borrowed most of this from a very short book I just self-published on Amazon, “Remembering Mercutio: Some thoughts on Michael Hastings’ death.” This is the only part about Shakespeare, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to mention, “Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat…” The connection between Marlowe and Mercutio is well-known, but I think the meaning of that line has been forgotten. I’d love to hear what everybody thinks.

So, Should We Talk About Romeo and Juliet?

I’m sure you know the news I’m talking about. The following is just stream of consciousness on the subject.

Can I see some ID, please?

There’s not a Gen-X AP English kid out there that didn’t see this film. It was always a good day when the teacher said you were going to watch a movie, but how often did they tell you ahead of time that this movie contained nudity?

In the 1980s, that’s what we had to work with – the 1968 Zeffirelli version of the movie, starring Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting (and Michael York as a badass Tybalt, let’s not forget him!) Let’s not forget it won some Oscars. It was a good movie. It just so happened to have a brief bit of nudity, and the naked people happened to be 16 years old. (How was that even possible? Well, it was filmed in Italy, for one. In the 1960s. Rules were different?)

Fast forward to the 90s and suddenly everybody got to watch the 1996 Romeo+Juliet with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and everything changed. The 1968 went back into the archives, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall it being all that big of a deal. We knew it existed. Some of us had seen it. So?

Here we are, fifty-something years later. The director, Franco Zeffirelli, died a few years ago. Guess what? Here come the stories. We didn’t want to do the nude scene. He lied to us. Could we please have fifty million dollars?

Oh, and did we mention that in 2021 she’s on record saying that she was broke? So, let’s see, built her whole career on the fame that this movie brought, now she needs money, and the guy she’s accusing is gone. Jackpot.

“Repackaging what is essentially pornography,” the article says. Have these people heard of the internet? Do we really think anybody’s wading through Shakespeare for a half-second glimpse of something that you could probably see at will by visiting a nude beach in Italy? Granted, it’s been a long, long time since I saw the scene in question (and given today’s world I’m not going to go looking for it) but in the time it would take you to fast-forward to it you could have googled stuff a thousand times worse.

By today’s standards, literally everything about this story would be unacceptable. No question. Hussey, like many child stars, has had a pretty terrible life coming out of this (mental health issues, abusive relationships, etc…) Pin that on the entire system, absolutely. There’s multiple generations of child actors that are right there with you. But to reach back fifty years, after decades of promoting both the accused (she worked with him again) and the movie (she’s spoken well of the production in the past), now you want money? I don’t think so. I hope this goes nowhere. This story, not anything about the original movie, gives Shakespeare a bad name.

Oh – for those that aren’t familiar with the term Streisand Effect, it refers to people who try to hide things on the Internet, or say “Nobody can see this!” Most of the people that hear that never saw it in the first place, never even knew about it, but now that you said that, they go hunt it down. Named for Barbara Streisand, who tried to suppress the California Coastal Records project from including pictures that showed her house, resulting in way more people seeing the pictures than ever would have if she’d said nothing.

I’m not saying that there are people out there who hear about a movie that includes a brief glimpse of a topless 16yr old and think, “Man, I gotta see that,” but, come on, this is the internet. Of course there are.

The Rosaline Trailer is … Actually Good?

I’ve been dumping all over the YA book (now movie) Rosaline that tells us the story of Romeo and Juliet from Rosaline’s point of view. You know, that character mentioned once that plays no significant role in the play. So the idea of retelling R&J really means, just making up a whole new story. Maybe if we’re lucky we get a new Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but I wasn’t holding out hope. There aren’t that many Tom Stoppards out there.

Well the trailer’s out and … I like it? It looks like it’s got legs to stand on its own (unlike, say, the wretched Ophelia that I couldn’t even finish).

It’s reminiscent of that heyday of high school Shakespeare comedies when we got 10 Things I Hate About You, and She’s The Man. It’s got the pacing, it’s got the humor. I laughed at a few bits. Strangely adult, for what it is (who says “blow me” in a PG-13 trailer?) but maybe that’s just where the bar is set these days.

Anyway, I’m more optimistic than I have been. Now that we see what it’s trying to be, I look forward to seeing the finished product. And I guess it’s a Hulu thing now? Which is good, I won’t have to get myself to the theatre to see it!