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Nothing Is Truer than Truth
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by Jay Seaver

"Maybe true, but not a good enough story."
3 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2018: Filmmaker Cheryl Eagan-Donovan presents an interesting argument for Edward de Vere as the true author of the plays and poetry of William Shakespeare in "Nothing Is Truer than Truth", enough that the viewer cannot necessarily dismiss it completely out of hand. The trouble is, an interesting case is not enough, especially on this subject: When the simplest explanation is as plain as "the plays of William Shakespeare were written by William Shakespeare", the case against must be compelling or overwhelming, and that is not the case here.

De Vere is an intriguing subject even without that hypothesis. The 17th Earl of Oxford - that he was the true author of the works is thus called "The Oxfordian Theory" - he grew up an only child, was a popular courtier, and traveled extensively in Europe, spending a particular amount of time in Venice. He had a good literary reputation but a tumultuous personal life, even beyond being a gambler and a spendthrift who would fritter away his entire inheritance.

His European travels are the primary evidence offered as to his authorship; not only were many of Shakespeare's plays set in Venice and the other principalities through which de Vere traveled, but Eagan-Donovan notes that there was someone very much akin to Shylock of The Merchant of Venice in said city at the time, as well as spotting architectural details that would seem more likely to show up in the work of someone who had seen them first-hand than someone who had not. It's fun historical tourism and good background whether you're able to buy into the Oxfordian Theory or not. The interviews supporting it are decent, if rough - Mark Rylance kind of looks like the ambushed him on the way to pick up his paycheck at the theater, while Derek Jacobi is charming and, if not convincing, seemingly convinced. Many of the less-famous people are harder reads, not quite having the gravitas to elevate the material above being a fringe theory - especially toward the end, when they are parsing epitaphs on gravestones for clues as to who is really buried in which tomb, sounding like very erudite conspiracy nuts.

And though Eagan-Donovan and her editors do their best to minimize it, she can't quite overcome the impression that many of the alternate theories about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays have been driven by classism and snobbery, that work so good simply cannot come from one's social inferiors. Though most of her arguments are practical, it is nevertheless incumbent upon her to make make this feel "truer than truth", to overcome the modern expectation that a person can learn the details cited as evidence without too much trouble, or how the most straightforward explanation is also more satisfying than the one being advanced (there is irony in Shakespeare's plays being the work of a noble who feared they would damage his reputation, but it is hollow compared to that of a merchant and actor excelling his more refined "betters").

This is perhaps neither fair nor logical, and may in fact be an impossible standard to meet, but it's what the film is up against. It makes a good introduction if one is already inclined to dig into this theory, or just the world around Shakespeare and the court of Elizabeth I in general, though it's unlikely to move the needle for people not already thinking along those lines.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32286&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/17/18 13:03:52
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Directed by
  Cheryl Eagan-Donovan

Written by
  Cheryl Eagan-Donovan

Cast
  (documentary)



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