Judi Dench and Helen Mirren to feature in BBC Shakespeare documentary

Dame Judi Dench is to feature in new documentary, Shakespeare: Rise Of A Genius, which is part of a new BBC season on the playwright (Yui Mok/PA)
Dame Judi Dench is to feature in new documentary, Shakespeare: Rise Of A Genius, which is part of a new BBC season on the playwright (Yui Mok/PA)

Oscar-winning actresses Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren are to give an insight into William Shakespeare’s enduring legacy as part of a documentary celebrating his first published works.

Shakespeare: Rise Of A Genius features the two Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) performers, who have played various roles in the Bard’s plays, including Lady Macbeth, and is part of a BBC season on the playwright that begins next month.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s collection of plays, commonly referred to by modern scholars as the First Folio, which is believed to date from 1623.

Dame Judi, who won her Academy Award for her role as Elizabeth I in 1998 film Shakespeare In Love, said: “His (Shakespeare’s) understanding of everything – of love, of anger, of jealousy, of rage, melancholy – who did it better? Who has ever done it better? I wish I’d met him, oh, I wish I’d met him.”

76th Cannes Film Festival
Dame Helen Mirren will contribute to Shakespeare: Rise Of A Genius (Doug Peters/PA)

The BBC Two documentary also sees academics and writers such as Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit novelist Jeanette Winterson, Jeremy O’Harris, known for 2020 black comedy Zola, and University of Birmingham professor Ewan Fernie provide fresh insights into the Stratford-upon-Avon native’s writing.

Succession star Brian Cox, Hustle actor Adrian Lester and Sherlock’s Martin Freeman also appear, with Truly, Madly, Deeply actress Juliet Stevenson providing narration.

BBC Four will also reshow archive performances throughout October, with newly filmed introductory segments from those associated with them.

They include David Tennant speaking about Hamlet, former National Theatre artistic director Sir Richard Eyre discussing King Lear, Dame Helen on As You Like It, Hugh Quarshie on Othello, and Sir Simon Russell Beale talking about his BBC series The Hollow Crown.

A re-broadcast of All Is True, about Shakespeare’s relationship with his wife, starring Dame Judi and Kenneth Branagh, will be introduced by a clip featuring actor Sir Ian McKellen, who played the Earl of Southampton.

A new performance of Hamlet, filmed at the Bristol Old Vic, and starring On Chesil Beach actor Billy Howle in the title role, will also be shown on BBC Four.

EastEnders actress and Strictly Come Dancing winner Rose Ayling-Ellis will perform the playwright’s poems in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, A Modern Love Story, along with other stars.

Reception to celebrate the work of William Shakespeare
The First Folio of works by William Shakespeare (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Suzy Klein, head of BBC Arts and Classical TV, said: “Shakespeare lived in a dangerous age of plague, violence, vicious rivalries and political assassinations, and his very survival is something of a miracle.

“His work was almost lost to history and, without the First Folio being published in 1623, 18 of his greatest plays would have been lost forever.

“We would have none of those immortal characters such as Cleopatra and Marc Anthony, Macbeth or Malvolio, Prospero and Ariel.

“Shakespeare changed the way we talk, the words we use, our films, books, catchphrases and memes, the very way we think – and yet we know very little about him.

“This major new season pieces together the clues from his life and work to reveal the driving forces behind the glover’s son from Stratford-upon-Avon who became the greatest writer that ever lived. ”

There will also be re-broadcasts of Sir Michael Parkinson’s interviews with American actor Orson Welles and Welsh actor Richard Burton, who both had numerous Shakespeare roles.

Sir Michael died in August at the age of 88.

– Shakespeare: Rise Of A Genius will be shown on BBC Two on Wednesday November 8 at 9pm.