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Normal People, 2020
Normal People, 2020(TV still)

Paul Mescal to play hot Shakespeare in Chloé Zhao’s Hamnet

The Oscar-winning director is adapting Maggie O’Farrell’s bestselling novel which tells the story of William Shakespeare’s wife

Jessie Buckley and Paul Mescal are in talks to star in Chloé Zhao’s adaptation of Maggie O’Farrell’s bestselling historical fiction novel, Hamnet, for Amblin Partners, Hera Pictures, Neal Street Productions and Book of Shadows.

The production is helmed by an Oscar-winning director and two celebrated Irish actors: Zhao took home the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director in 2021 for her film Nomadland, while Mescal was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor in 2023 for his performance in Aftersun and Buckley also nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2022 for her performance in The Lost Daughter.

Buckley is set to star in the film as Anne (or Agnes) Hathaway, the wife of William Shakespeare, while Mescal is lined up to play the playwright himself. For those of us who had a meltdown over Mescal looking aggressively hot in that chain in Normal People (me), just think about the exciting possibilities posed by Shakespeare’s little hoop earring. (The receding hairline vibe is considerably less exciting, but I’m sure Mescal will pull it off somehow.)

Hamnet likely won‘t centre around Mescal, however, as it‘s primarily the story of Shakespeare’s wife. Spanning decades, the novel alternates between two timelines: the burgeoning love story between the future playwright and Hathaway is told through a series of flashbacks, while the other half of the narrative centres around the couple’s 11-year-old twins Judith and Hamnet as they take it in turns to battle bubonic plague. The novel culminates with Hathaway attending a performance of Hamlet in London in the early 1600s, following Hamnet’s death. 

Very little is known about Hathaway. She married Shakespeare in November 1582 while three months pregnant with Susanna, the couple’s first child. She was 26 while Shakespeare was 18, leading some historians to believe that the wedding was forced on Shakespeare by the Hathaway family.

O’Farrell’s story counters this perception of Shakespeare’s wife as a gold digger who plotted to ensnare him in marriage: “Even among quite respected biographers, she’s cast as an illiterate, cradle-snatching peasant who lured this boy genius into marriage,” O’Farrell told the New York Times last month. “But I couldn’t find a single shred of evidence for that.” In the novel, Hathaway is reimagined as a highly intelligent woman with the power of clairvoyance and an innate affinity with the natural world. Shakespeare, meanwhile, is never addressed or called by his name, and instead only referred to as ‘the Latin tutor’, ‘her husband’, or ‘the father’.

Hamnet won the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Fiction Prize at the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Awards and was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize and longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. It’s also a BookTok favourite, with the Hamnet hashtag racking up 1.5 million views.