The executive producer of this enterprising compilation is film music composer,
Michael Kamen. The selection of some of Shakespeare's best-loved sonnets (and
other writings) are read by a glittering array of some of the world's leading
actors All, except Joseph Fiennes, have passed through the RADA, the Royal Academy
of Dramatic Art, and they have all donated their talents in its coarse. All
the readings are fine, some outstanding in the power and sensitivity of their
delivery, like: John Gielgud reading Sonnet 23, "As an unperfect actor
on the stage…"; Alan Rickman's ironic "My mistress' eyes are nothing
like the sun…"(Sonnet 130), and John Hurt's sardonic interpretation of
Sonnet 147 "My love is as a fever, longing still…for I have sworn thee
fair and thought thee bright, who art as black as hell and dark as night."
Then there is Alan Bates dark intoning of Sonnet 66, "Tired with all these
for restful death I cry"; and Kenneth Branagh's quietly yet moving delivery
of Sonnet 30, "When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up
remembrance of things past…"
Frequently, there are a few bars of gentle lute music between the readings.
There are also eight musical settings, most of these modern or pop in style
like Annie Lennox singing an upbeat pop rendering of Christopher Marlowe's "Live
with me and be my love…". Sonnet 29, "When in disgrace with fortune
and men's eyes" is sung by Rufus Wainwright with an interesting "Tudor" strumming
accompaniment. Keb Mo has a modern electronic take on "No more be grieved
at which thou hast done…". John Dowland's "Come again: sweet love
doth now invite", is sung much more in the Tudor fashion by John Potter;
a lovely setting with an outstanding accompaniment. There is a suitably mournful
slightly atonal mock-Tudor setting, by Michael Kamen, of 'The Willow Song' from
Othello sung by Barbara Bonney. Ladysmith Black Mazambo bring a spiritual
approach to "Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly." Brian Ferry's
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" has an appealing if shaky
sincerity. Least successful is the less than expressive singing of Des'ree in
"The quality of mercy is not strained" from The Merchant of Venice.