Countryfile: The Shakespeare Special

Countryfile Shakespeare

Countryfile’s Shakespeare special was good, if not that special. You might wonder what direction a countryside TV show about the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death would go in. I did.

It starts quite slowly with an inaccessible place named ‘Shakespeare’s cave’. Presenter Matt Brown admits it may have been hard for Shakespeare to even reach the cave in his slipper clad feet. That’s what happens in this show, at points it feels as if some of the links are tenuous. This criticism is not to say it lacked substance. Judi Dench lends gravitas as she recalls her own experiences of Shakespeare and recites his prose. The woman is amazing and the chemistry between her and John Craven is entertaining. There is also Shakespearean biographer Stanley Wells, who many think of as the leading authority on Shakespeare, talking about the Bard’s life.

We learn that the Forest of Arden, which is said to have inspired As You Like It, is now known as Birmingham. At least there still remains a tree that is ‘probably’ 1,000 years old and ‘maybe’ Shakespeare sat beneath it. Ale features heavily, the staple drink of most people back then. In fact a working man was officially allowed 8 pints a day, even toddlers drank ale, as it was safer than water. Wool is another topic that gets dissected. Protected by the crown, it was the ‘Aberdeen oil’ of its day. It is amazing to think of a time when farming was so profitable. This section is also one of the funniest when farmer Adam Henson herds sheep through the centre of Stratford only for them to bolt when they see open space.

The final part was fascinating. It was the building of the Minack theatre in Cornwall. Built into the cliffs by a visionary local Rowena Cade it still remains a place for Shakespeare’s The Tempest to be acted out today.

For regular Countryfile fans this edition was an amiable wander around Shakespeare’s life. To another channel hopper I’m not sure they would have been gripped enough to hang around as sometimes the links to Shakespeare felt a stretch.  This is despite there being some very interesting things to learn and that’s why those that love it will continue to.

The Countryfile Shakespeare Special is now available on the iPlayer.

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