So much of William Shakespeare's life remains shrouded in mystery that the Bard has become a perfect subject for speculative fiction. For some, the ultimate question is "Did Shakespeare actually write his plays?"
But Ghana-born screenwriter William Boyd (Chaplin) and Scottish TV director John McKay (Life on Mars, Robin Hood) are more interested in the Bard's love life, and the effect it had on his poetry.
Boyd and McKay are the creative brains behind the breezy, enjoyable, somewhat titillating 2005 British TV drama A Waste of Shame: The Mystery of Shakespeare and His Sonnets, now available on DVD from BFS Entertainment (www.bfsent.com; $24.98; not rated).
Waste, which stars Rupert Graves as the English literary genius and Anna Chancellor as his unhappy, neglected wife, Anne Hathaway, isn't just a sex romp. It's based on a genuine literary mystery. In 1609, Shakespeare published a collection of 154 sonnets that has come to be regarded as one of the greatest cycles of lyrical poems in literature.
The bulk of the poems are addressed to a "Fair Youth," while 26 are written to a "Dark Lady." Who were these individuals, and why did the poet have such affection for them?
Shame presents a fun, fanciful answer by embroiling Shakespeare in a love triangle of sorts involving a young English aristocrat and a sophisticated French prostitute.
The fair youth, the movie claims, was William Herbert (Tom Sturridge), a young nobleman whom Shakespeare was mentoring. The Bard, whose young son Hamnet had just died, develops an intensely paternal, if also quasi-romantic, intellectual attachment to Herbert.
The Bard also has an equally passionate, and ultimately doomed, affair with an exquisitely beautiful French prostitute, played by Rome star Indira Varma.
Alas, things begin to fall apart when Shakespeare's two loves meet and fall for each other.
Nagisa Ôshima, the bête noire of Japanese cinema who shocked the world with the explicit, taboo-breaking sex odyssey In the Realm of the Senses (1976), honed his craft with a series of explosive films throughout the 1960s that synthesized the writer-director's lifelong obsessive preoccupations with postwar Japanese politics and formal experimentation.
Five of Ôshima's best films from the era are collected in Eclipse Series 21: Ôshima's Outlaw Sixties, a five-disc box set from Criterion Collection (www.criterion.com; $69.95; not rated). The films, which include Pleasures of the Flesh (1965), Violence at Noon (1966), and Sing a Song of Sex (1967), owe far more to the French New Wave than to Ôshima's Japanese predecessors. In each, the filmmaker explores, and exposes, life at the margins of society, with stories about killers, prostitutes, crooks, and political radicals.
On Tuesday, Warner (www.wbshop.com/) will release a pair of funky new road movies that look at life in a postapocalyptic America. The famed directing duo the Hughes Brothers (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) present the comic book-meets-the-Bible saga The Book of Eli ($28.98 DVD; $35.99 Blu-ray; rated R). Denzel Washington stars as a prophet-warrior who guards a precious book in an era when books have ceased to exist.
Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) delivers a more sober, serious, and ultra-tense thriller with The Road ($27.96 DVD; $34.95 Blu-ray). Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron star.
Luis Berdejo, the Spanish screenwriter-turned-director who wrote the intense horror flick Rec and its American remake, Quarantine, mines the depths of the unconscious in the effective, nicely paced nightmarish thriller The New Daughter, from Anchor Bay (www.anchorbayentertainment.com/; $29.98 DVD; $34.98 Blu-ray; rated R). Kevin Costner stars as a newly divorced writer who moves to South Carolina with his two kids. But his dreams for a new life are shattered when his teenage daughter (Ivana Baquero) becomes obsessed with a haunted American Indian burial mound.
In a welcome break from his usual comedic role, Thomas Haden Church stars in the dark, neo-noir thriller Don McKay, due June 29 from Image (www.image-entertainment.com/; $27.98 DVD; $35.98 Blu-ray; rated R). Church plays a high school janitor who returns to his hometown 25 years after a tragedy forced him to leave. His visit, which is anything but sweet, turns even darker when he rekindles a romance with his lost love (Elisabeth Shue).
Jonathan Pryce leads a terrific cast in the savagely funny 1991 British TV offering Selling Hitler, due July 13 from Acorn Media (www.acornmedia.com; $39.99; not rated). Based on a true story, the four-hour mini-series takes a look at one of the last century's greatest publishing hoaxes. Pryce stars as the German reporter who sparks a furious scandal when he discovers that a highly touted volume purporting to be the lost diaries of Adolf Hitler was forged by a small-time shopkeeper in Stuttgart. The crook had managed to convince some of Germany's leading historians and book experts that his book was authentic.