Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Starring Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Ben Affleck,
Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Tom Wilkinson, and Judi Dench.
Screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard.
Directed by John Madden.
Review by Carlo Cavagna.
Gwyneth Paltrow fans can rejoice. She continues to come across as conceited and arrogant in interviews, and she's still as skinny as a bicycle. But there is no question anymore that she's a good actress. In fact, she earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Shakespeare in Love. Everything about her performance is perfect--her comic timing, her delivery, the way she carries herself, her British accent (I'm told)--everything.
In fact, there's little that's not perfect in Shakespeare in Love. It's far and away the best romantic comedy of the year, by virtue of the fact that it's the best written, best acted, best directed, and most intelligent romantic comedy of the year. The conceit is that Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is so moving and so brilliant a play that Shakespeare himself must have been in love when he wrote it, and that it too must have been a forbidden love. The plots of Shakespeare in Love and of Romeo and Juliet are closely interwoven--the events in Shakespeare's personal life are his source of inspiration for the play.
This could easily have been the premise of a drama. But instead Shakespeare in Love goes for the laughs. Every aspect of the creative process, from the writing to the production of a play is caricatured. The screenplay uses numerous modern anachronisms to get laughs (Shakespeare visits a psychiatrist and confesses his inadequacies while lying on a couch, for example)--perhaps too many, as some are distracting and make suspension of disbelief more difficult. Yet without them, Shakespeare in Love would have been considerably less funny.
The cast is uniformly strong. Geoffrey Rush is particularly amusing as the rotten-toothed theater owner, who never quite grasps the fact that Shakespeare is writing a tragedy instead of the originally agreed-upon comedy, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate King's Daughter. Judi Dench is a hoot as a sharp-tongued Queen Elizabeth, and Ben Affleck joins the cast as an egotistical actor who swallows his pride to help with the play. As for Shakespeare himself, he is played by Joseph Fiennes (younger brother of Ralph). Fiennes (also seen as Lord Dudley in Elizabeth) isn't quite as polished an actor as some of his co-stars, but he gives an able performance and has a promising career ahead of him.
It will enhance your enjoyment of Shakespeare in Love if you're already familiar with Shakespeare's work. If you aren't a Shakespeare buff, and you live in a city like New York or Washington, you may have to put up with the knowing titters of the intellectual elite determined to show that they understand every reference to one of the plays, no matter how obscure or indirect. But don't let that keep you away. Shakespeare in Love is quite accessible even if you haven't seen or read any of Shakespeare's work. All you really need to know is some of Shakespeare's best-known lines and that Romeo and Juliet features a famous balcony scene. Get thee to a theater!
Review © February 1999 by AboutFilm.Com
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