Shakespeare in Love (15)

Directed by John Madden
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Ben Affleck, Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth

A mega hit and Oscar winner, Shakespeare in Love is a perfect blend of comedy and romance, that also taps into the intellectual, classics loving audience with a literate and witty script co-written by playwright Tom Stoppard.
The story is a fictional one with a dashing young Will Shakespeare (Fiennes) suffering from writer's block while trying to keep the wolf from the door! Already popular with the austere Queen Elizabeth (Dench in an Oscar winning role), theatre owners Wilkinson and Rush are keen to harnass the talents of the young author. His latest work, Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter is not going well, and to further complicate things, a new young actor catches Will's eye. Viola (Paltrow) is a young woman of noble birth who is craxy for the theatre and acting and in traditional Shakespeare fashion, disguises herself as a young boy to fulfil her desire. She and Will begin a rather sickly sweet romance - but her impending marriage to Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) means that unlike in Shakespeare's plays, a happy ending is unlikely.
While the story is enjoyable enough, what makes Shakespeare in Love so good is the attention to detail. The cast includes many other British actors. Rupert Everett as Christopher Marlowe, Martin Clunes as Richard Burbage, the blokes from the Fast Show, Imelda Staunton and others. Everyone seems to comfortable and realxed in their roles- a testament to director Madden. Well...nearly everyone. Personally I don't know why Gwyneth Paltrow won an Oscar for this as I found her to be rather ill at ease throughout. Fellow Yank, and former beau Ben Affleck proves that ex-girlfriend Gwyn isn't the only one that can do a pretty decent English accent, and Gwyneth's swanlike beauty isn't really enough to win an Oscar is it? However, she and Joesph Fiennes make a pretty couple- all soulful looks and doomed romance. Fiennes is perfect for the role, although as I commented in my review of Elizabeth, the spineless but pretty, tortured and tragic young man is getting a bit of a routine role for him. I'd like to see him in some modern thriller next I think! Colin Firth is cuckolded by yet another Fiennes brother! After losing Kristen Scott Thomas to Ralph in The English Patient, now its Joseph! Firth is excellent as the weasely but not dislikable Lord Wessex, ingratiatingly creepy to the Queen, arrogant as anything with a scruffy young playwright. And Judi Dench, while only having 8 minutes of screen time, fully deserves her awards. She dominates those scenes, manages to be lofty and majestic but not as miserable as some Queen Elizabeths. You can believe Cate Blanchett in the film Elizabeth might grow old like Judi Dench. Wonder if she would spot her two pals Joe Fiennes and Geoffrey Rush??
Perfectly scripted and full of in jokes like a young bloodthirsty lad named John Webster, a taxi driver like boatman, lots of producers all wanting their credits for a play, and lots of references to future Shakespeare plays, this is a very enjoyable film that has the added benefit of seeming like a cleverer film than it is. While the film is high concept- ie the plot is basically the title - it is in no way dumbed down. Those literary quotes and jokes might go over some heads, but if you do pick them up, you are more likely to enjoy it, while congratulating yourself on your wide literary knowledge!
For me the least convincing aspect of the film was the romance between Shakespeare and Viola. It went on too long and relied on the aesthetic pleasures of Fiennes and Paltrow too much, but the idea was excellent. Shakespeare's rather mysterious private life hasincluded speculation about a mystery lover- maybe female or a male lover, while he was in London and his wife and family in Stratford. The cross dressing Viola covers both these theories, and adds a nice touch of sexual ambiguity.
While almost exclusively British made, with a British crew and cast(apart from Affleck, Paltrow and Australian Rush), the money was all American! Shame no UK investors got in on this wonderfully entertaining film that shows that costume films can be lively and funny. If you haven't seen it yet, then wny not!! 9/10

January 1999

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