London filmmaker sends Shakespeare into space as part of Folio 400 celebrations

Oct 31, 2023

As part of the celebrations for Folio 400, the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s first folio in 2023, BAFTA nominated film maker Jack Jewers has taken six of Shakespeare’s most popular speeches and poems and reimagined them for the 21st century. Each film uses Shakespeare’s 400 year old words as a lens through which to navigate the world in which we live today.

Themes explored in the films range the war in Ukraine, to social justice protests, space exploration and the impact of COVID. With uncanny parallels between our lives now, and life in 1623, these poignant film shorts demonstrate that Shakespeare’s words have never been more relevant as we find ourselves moving from pandemic to global conflict. Despite centuries of change our very human experiences of loss, joy, grief and compassion remain the same.

Jack Jewers’ innovative approach to film-making for this original shorts collection saw him send a speech from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, along with a portrait of Shakespeare, into space, in the film short Lovers and Madmen narrated by Tom Baker (Dr Who). The text and portrait were attached to a weather balloon and taken to the earth’s upper atmosphere, with Tom Baker’s narration accompanying stunning visuals of Earth’s horizon against the black void of outer space.

In the film short St Crispin’s Day, Jewers remotely directed Ukrainian civilians in bomb-stricken Kyiv, with the powerful footage providing a striking new interpretation of Shakespeare’s rousing “Band of Brothers” speech from Henry V, performed here by Eliza Butterworth (The Last Kingdom, A Town Called Malice).

Written 400 years ago The Strangers Case is an intensely moving speech is an impassioned defence of refugees that rings as true today as it did in 1517.  The film short uses real footage of refugees at sea and is voiced by Crystal Clarke (Sanderton, Empire of Light) with a stunning central performance from actor Yasin Morad who came to the UK as a refugee.

In All the World’s A Stage, Jewers invited international university students to narrate the famous speech from As You Like It in their first languages, as an exploration of British multiculturalism in the face of ever-changing immigration laws, and as a celebration of the universality of Shakespeare’s words.

For the film short They That Have Power to Hurt musician and BBC presenter Cerys Matthews narrates Sonnet 94. Traditionally seen as a love poem, here Jewers uses Shakespeare’s words to explore a rising sense of unrest and the tension between activists and law enforcement all over the world, as well as illustrating the power and complexities of protest movements.

Taken from The Tempest, “Our Revels Now Are Ended” narrated by Amber Anderson (EmmaPeaky Blinders) deals with themes of loneliness and isolation caused by the pandemic – but also the feeling of liberation and celebration that reuniting with loved ones brought when lockdown ended.

Jack Jewers says: “Everything that has been happening to us in the past few years of upheaval – mass disease, concerns about immigration, protest, conflict in Europe, a growing desire to challenge authority and speak truth to power – was also happening in 1623 when the First Folio was published. In 1623 English migrants were going in boats across the sea to build a new life in North America. There was an outbreak of plague. Europe was entrenched in the Thirty Years War. And the ongoing explosion of trade, immigration and diplomacy meant that news of global events would have reached Shakespeare’s ears faster and faster. Just as today the 24-hour news cycle has us feeling our global neighbours are closer than ever, so it must have felt for Shakespeare 400 years ago. Now, as then, society is deeply divided. The parallels are uncanny and Shakespeare’s words are fresher now than ever before in their ability to speak powerfully to our own contemporary lives.”

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