SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
But the premise of Shakespeare In Love is not its only asset,
not by a longshot. With an excellent cast, a screenplay sprinkled with equal
parts humor and pathos, and energetic direction (not to mention beautiful
sets and costumes), the film is thoroughly delightful in every respect.
Madden, who directed last years impeccable Mrs.
Brown, has again turned out a period piece that will appeal to all,
not just stuffy professors of literature and theatre history. Penned by
Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, and dipping deeply from Shakespeare's own
well of dialogue, the plot is constructed much like one of the plays written
by its main character. It is loaded with subtle references to his style
and clever inferences about the origins of famous lines.
Joseph Fiennes plays young Will Shakespeare, who, in 1593 London, has
not yet achieved the fame and respect he is now afforded. He is struggling
with writers block while the owner of the Rose theatre, Philip Henslowe
(Geoffrey Rush), is putting pressure on him to write the new comedy he promised,
Romeo and Ethel. After listlessly scribbling out a few pages,
Will holds tryouts, but is unimpressed by any of the towns potential
actors. Then a new boy comes onto the stage and reads with such feeling
that Will sits up and takes notice. As in many of the Bards plays,
it is actually a woman in boys clothes who stands on the stage. It
is Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), a noblelady who has been a fan of
Wills words for years, and who seems to capture them so eloquently,
it's as if she wrote them herself. But since women were not allowed to appear
in theatre in those days, she must masquerade as a man to be considered
for a part.
Will soon discovers Viola's secret, but he is so enchanted he hires her
to play Romeo anyway. As the two become romantically entangled, the play
flows effortlessly from his pen; the love scenes acted out in her bedroom
are reiterated on the stage the next day. This is a particularly ingenious
sequence in the movie, with quick editing between the couples' love scenes
and the rehearsal scenes, where Viola wears a short, boy's wig and facial
hair. But as events proceed and real life steps in, the newly renamed Romeo
And Juliet changes from comedy to tragedy.
Paltrow and Fiennes give lusciously romantic and powerful performances
here; Paltrow's gender-switching is a difficult order and she pulls it off
without a hitch. Rush is excellent as the affable theatre owner who still
thinks he's getting a comedy until opening night. Also on board are Judi
Dench as an icily regal Queen Elizabeth (she played Queen Victoria last
year in Mrs. Brown), Ben Affleck as Will's actor friend who plays
Mercutio in the play, and Colin Firth as the unamused Lord Wessex, who intends
to make Viola his own.
Writers Norman and Stoppard have turned out a piece worthy of its subject, and director Madden has not failed in transferring their vision to the screen. Shakespeare In Love is funny, tragic, romantic . . . I love it; should I count the ways? *****
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