Film on History, Controversy of Shakespeare Portrait to Be on TV

June 03, 2009 - News Release

A new movie that tells the story of the Sanders portrait, believed by many to be the only portrait of William Shakespeare painted while he was alive, will be shown on Bravo! this month.

Battle of Wills will air on the specialty channel June 7 at 8 p.m. and June 12 and 7 p.m. The documentary covers the science, history and controversy of the Sanders portrait, which is thought to depict the Bard at age 39.

The portrait was the centrepiece of a five-month-long exhibit at Guelph's Macdonald Stewart Art Centre and a regional Shakespeare festival in the spring of 2007. It's also the signature image of U of G's Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP), which was founded and directed by English professor Daniel Fischlin and includes the largest and most complete website in the world dedicated to showing Shakespeare’s cultural influence.

The portrait's owner, Lloyd Sullivan, is a U of G friend and supporter. He inherited the painting from his mother in 1972. It's believed that Shakespeare sat for an ancestor of Sullivan's, an unknown actor and painter called John Sanders, in 1603. The portrait was held in the family for 400 years and at one time was stored under Sullivan's grandmother's bed. The portrait has been confirmed by six years of painstaking forensic studies to date from around 1600, and it has not been altered since.

Fischlin learned about the Sanders portrait while he and his research team were travelling across the country to uncover original Canadian adaptations of Shakespeare for their project. He was instrumental in bringing the portrait to Guelph and has been helping to confirm some of the historical connections that substantiate the authenticity of the portrait.

The Sanders portrait was also part of “Searching for Shakespeare,” an international exhibit organized by the National Portrait Gallery in London, England. The Sanders portrait joined the gallery's famous Chandos painting and four portraits purporting to represent Shakespeare. It was also the subject of the 2001 book Shakespeare's Face and is used by the Stratford Festival of Canada, and has been written about extensively in numerous newspapers and magazines around the world, including the Globe and Mail and The Sunday Times in London.

Battle of Wills, directed by Anne Henderson, features some of the most prominent Shakespearean actors, including Joseph Fiennes from the film Shakespeare in Love. "It's a great showcase for showing the major characters and the high stakes involved in authenticating the Sanders portrait," Fischlin said. "Anne Henderson has really done a great job of telling a very complicated, rich story in a one-hour documentary."

Bravo!, which is owned by CTVglobemedia, concentrates on the arts, including music, ballet, literature and drama. It also features some well-known series including Mad Men and Desperate Housewives.

For media questions, contact U of G Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt , 519 824-4120, Ext. 5338 or, or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982 or

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