Shakespeare was busy making a name for himself on the Monday, July 10, two-episode premiere of Will. The bard debuted his first play in London, fell for the boss’ daughter and managed to escape the grasp of Queen Elizabeth’s notorious law enforcer. The new TNT drama series tells the story of young William Shakespeare (Laurie Davidson) after he arrives to London’s punk-rock theater scene.
The show kicked off with Will leaving his family to fulfill his dream of becoming a playwright. With him is a letter for his cousin, Catholic priest and poet Robert Southwell (Max Bennett), one of the most wanted men in London for spreading Catholic “propaganda” in Protestant England.
Once in London — a gritty version accented with leather jackets, mohawks and flamboyant makeup — Will encounters Presto (Lukas Rolfe), a young street urchin who latches on to the newcomer.
Presto tells the young bard that he’ll show him to the best theater in London, but while Will’s attention is elsewhere, Presto steals his notebook. Will chases after the boy but Presto slices his hand, grabs the letter he was carrying and slips away.
A No One Desires to Be Someone
His hand bandaged, Will comes across a performance at one of London’s biggest theaters led by James Burbage (Colm Meaney), who’s just lost his superstar playwright, Christopher Marlowe (Jamie Campbell Bower).
The show, which is in obvious disarray, turns the audience into an angry mosh pit. In an effort to quell the mob, Burbage promises a new, free play the next day.
Seeing his opportunity, Will goes to Burbage’s house to present his work and comes across his beautiful and whip-smart daughter, Alice (Olivia DeJonge). After winning her over with his words, they go to the theater to present it to Burbage and his troop.
“Piece of s–t,” Burbage tells him. “But, we can make it work. We have a play!”
A Secret Romance
Enlisted as Burbage’s new playwright, Will and Alice’s friendship begins to grow. With his hand still healing, Alice becomes Will’s scribe and advises him on members of the theater company, including her handsome and egocentric actor brother, Richard (Mattias Inwood). And it’s Alice who helps Will write his famous line: “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?”
While they’ve clearly fallen for each other — and even share a secret, steamy kiss — Will reluctantly holds back his feelings and tells Alice that he has a wife and children at home. Even though the two are keeping things casual for now, this love story likely isn’t over.
A Treacherous Letter
Meanwhile, the Protestant council is focusing their effort on finding Southwell, the leader of the Catholic rebellion. Richard Topcliffe (Ewen Bremner), a notorious torturer and persecutor of Catholics, urges the council to focus their efforts on theaters, calling them “snares set by the devil to catch souls.”
Young Presto capitalizes on Topcliffe’s desire and delivers the treacherous letter he stole from Will.
“The traitor carrying this letter was from one of the theaters,” Topcliffe later tells Marlowe in a clandestine meeting with the playwright. “Whoever carried this letter can lead me to Southwell.” He also tells Marlowe that he’ll be paid well if he finds the “writer with a gash on his hand.”
Poor, Dear Baxter
Turns out it doesn’t take long for Marlowe to realize that Will is the man that Topcliffe is looking for. On the day of Will’s debut, Burbage uses Christopher Marlowe’s name in an effort to gain a larger audience, leading the notable playwright to attend the performance and encounter Will.
Marlowe sends a boy to notify Topcliffe, but after watching Will’s play, he recognizes the bard’s skill and rethinks his actions. Instead of letting Topcliffe arrest Will, he cuts the hand of rival playwright, Baxter (Tadhg Murphy), and tricks Topcliffe into taking away the wrong man.
When Alice finds out that Marlowe cut Baxter’s hand before he was arrested, she puts two-and-two together and forces Will to tell her the truth about himself.
Angry that Marlowe thinks he can play with people’s lives, Will goes to confront him. “I saw greatness, that’s why I saved you. Topcliffe was coming for someone and the lesser of two evils was the lesser of two poets,” Marlowe tells Will. The young poet continues to argue with him and Marlowe replies: “Greatness comes at a cost. Yours is to endure your guilt.”
But after Topcliffe delivers Baxter’s dead body to the theater, Will makes up his mind to take action, putting him on a path that could bring him dangerously close to his pursuer and threaten the lives of those around him.
Will airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.
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