Why they didn’t call it “The Bard Behind Bars” I’ll never know.
Sometime ago I had placed the film, Shakespeare Behind Bars, in my Netflix queueueue (I always get lost trying to spell that word) just before heading to an event. There, I learned that one of the inmates featured in the documentary had once been the friend of a dear friend of mine. Well, the die was cast, as Shakespeare might say (or have someone say).
Shakespeare Behind Bars is a 90-minute documentary that premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Don’t be turned off by the word “documentary.” Or the word “Sundance.” Or the word “Shakespeare.” It is a fascinating look inside a Kentucky prison as inmates try to stage a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It interweaves the inmates’ efforts to understand and translate Shakespeare with their own tempestuous backgrounds and hopes for redemption against a backdrop of prison life.
It is a simultaneously inspiring and disturbing film. It is disturbing because it honestly grapples with the pressures of prison life and the difficulty some face in trying to stay out of (further) trouble for nine months in a row. It is inspiring because, well, it depicts not only the beauty and power of Shakespeare’s language but also the value of a common purpose, a worthwhile goal, and transcendent themes.