Maeve is a 13-year-old student whose English teacher, Miss Hayes, is determined to get her class to appreciate William Shakespeare and his plays. Maeve is particularly resistant to Miss Hayes’s arguments, thinking of the Bard as old, dull and musty.
But soon Maeve encounters a spirit — visible only to her — who is determined to get her to change her mind about Shakespeare as well. Puck takes it upon himself to show Maeve how Shakespeare drew inspiration from the world and people around him — and maybe changing the way Maeve sees the world as well.
Writer-director Margaret McGoldrick’s smart and charming short family film that takes the idea of an imaginary friend to a new, highly literary level. The film has a pedagogical aim to make literature relevant to a generation whose storytelling comes more from Snapchat than Shakespeare. But it also shows the enduring power of stories themselves to reflect and enlarge upon the preoccupations and emotions we experience in everyday life.
The craft and storytelling in the film emphasize a friendly clarity, unfolding in a gentle, unhurried way, as fitting for a film aimed for families and children. The images are often lovely and luminous, with an inviting warmth to them that makes them a pleasure to look at, and painting an almost pastoral picture of a school where learning and growth are the central most aims.
In this halcyon setting, Maeve functions as the seen-it-all student who is almost too smart for her own good. Yet her intelligence puts her in danger of being closed off not just Shakespeare, but from intellectual growth as well. So it’s up to one iconic imaginary character to change her mind and open her eyes.
The story’s central notion of an invisible, mischievous spirit at work is a whimsical device, but the film handles it in a grounded, easygoing way, and much of the magic comes from a beguiling musical score sprinkled effectively throughout the action.
It’s also aided with a gently clever performance by actor Cathan McRoberts, who plays the iconic Puck with a sense of fun and possibility that is equal parts low-key and roguish. When Puck can’t help but intervene in the affair of the school community, it gives Maeve the final puzzle piece of insight to show that Shakespeare’s language may be archaic, but his view of human nature is nearly universal, even across centuries of time.
“Finding Shakespeare” embraces the family genre at its most classic, telling its story with a sweet, almost old-fashioned earnestness. It recognizes, both in aim and content, that storytelling at its most basic aim is a form of sentimental education, teaching us about human nature and behavior and helping us make sense of the sometimes chaotic emotional world around us. Shakespeare may have used a different style of expression, but his plays were noted for the breadth and depth of their intricate emotional intelligence, inviting interpretation even now — and influencing storytellers through the ages to see the world through his uniquely humane eyes.