The new comedy Billy Shakespeare asks an intriguing question: What if the world’s most famous playwright did not exist until the 21st Century?
The movie was written, directed and co-edited by Deborah Voorhees, who has a small part in the film. There’s even a brief reference to her role in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985).
The title character (played by Jason D. Johnson) is trying to break into show business with his plays set in Victorian England. Initially, none of the major Hollywood players give him much attention. His work is even looked down upon by his own mother (Lyn Kidder). The only ones interested are those who think The Merry Wives of Windsor would make a great pornographic film.
Eventually, Shakespeare obtains notoriety when he makes Macbeth. But that fame comes with a price as he proves a little too willing to be true to Victorian England when he wants to have the characters in his work all portrayed by men. This leads to some calling him sexist and even anti-semitic.
But his work also gets his fans, which delights Shakespeare no end. His pre-occupation with his new fame begins to annoy his girlfriend Anne Hathaway (Catharine Pilafas). Her annoyance increases when Shakespeare casts their friend Wilma Hartford (Phillip David Collins) as Lady Macbeth, a role Anne wanted to play.
This movie is somewhat reminiscent of Ed Wood (1994), in that it deals with a filmmaker who is trying to make it big even though his work is deemed too strange by some. Like Wood, some begin to wonder about Shakespeare’s gender preferences.
Johnson is good as the playwright. He is easy to sympathize with and, at times, bizarre (there are moments when he replies to adversity with a freaky stare and quotes from his work).
The scene-stealer, though, is Collins. Wilma, who works as a drag queen, is devoted to Shakespeare and, in the film’s funniest scene, gets a chance to be close with him when he and Anne switch places in Shakespeare’s bed.
The real Shakespeare is known for writing some of history’s best comedies and dramas, so this film may have conceivably worked as a straight drama, but it’s terrific as a comedy because, like all good comedies, there are laughs and likable characters.