|Shakespeare in Love
Some films are like full-course meals, others like appetizers and still
other like rich, calorie-laden desserts. Falling definitely in the latter category
is the Miramax release SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. A marvelously witty romantic
comedy, the movie is akin to a key lime pie—rich and sumptuous with just
the right amount of bite. And while the script has reportedly been kicking
around for years (at one time Daniel Day-Lewis and Julia Roberts were
reportedly set to star), like a fine wine, it has aged well.
Writer Marc Norman reportedly got the germ of the idea for the film from
his college student son who suggested to his father that the "missing" years
in Shakespeare's life might yield something. Later Tom Stoppard, no slouch in
offering "alternative" takes on the lives of famous people (in such plays as
Arcadia, Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Travesites). Stoppard
is a wizard of intermixing actual texts with his unique blend of ideas so the
final script proves both amusing and solid. Although set in 1593, the film has
a very contemporary sensibility and the in-jokes and quotes from the Bard's
canon fly by. The premise is an intriguing one: what if William Shakespeare,
an actor of note and rising author, were commissioned to write a play
(Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter) and he found he was suffering
from writer's block? From there the fun begins. Stoppard and Norman's script
is clever enough to interweave characters and half-formed ideas that would
later show up in Shakespeare's plays. For example, he utilizes the services
of an apothecary who resembles Shylock and who dispenses advice like a
16th-century Sigmund Freud.
The plot is Shakespearean in its own way. The blocked writer meets
his muse in Viola de Lesseps (whom the screenwriters peg as the mysterious
"Dark Lady of the Sonnets"), who by twist of fate was betrothed to the
impoverished Earl of Wessex in an agreement that had the blessing of no
less than Queen Elizabeth herself. As the playwright begins to woo Viola,
the play begins to take form. Viola harbors a desire to act so in a reversal
of the conventions of the day when young boys undertook the female roles,
she pretends to be a boy.
It is all great fun and under the assured hand of director John Madden
(who last year brought us MRS. BROWN), the film soars. The cast is
impeccable. A nearly unrecognizable Geoffrey Rush plays a theater owner
to whom Shakespeare has promised his play. Tom Wilkinson is hilarious as
a moneylender with aspirations to act. Colin Firth is also quite funny as the
dim-witted Earl of Wessex and the peerless Imelda Staunton wrings laughs
out of her part as Viola's nurse. There is also fine supporting work from
Ben Affleck perfectly pompous as star actor Ned Allyn, a fine cameo by
Rupert Everett as rival Christopher Marlowe and the singular Judi Dench
in regal splendor as Queen Elizabeth. In the leading roles of Shakespeare
and Viola, Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow strike sparks. As she
has previously demonstrated, Paltrow can produce a flawless British accent
and here manages to convince as a forward-thinking woman more interested
in poetry and true love than an arranged marriage. The real find of the film,
however, is Fiennes. With his limpid eyes, striking features and lilting voice,
he perfectly captures the tortured soul of an artist and lover. While he is on
the cusp of a career (and is often currently mentioned in tandem with his
older brother Ralph), it should not be long before he is a star in his own right.
So, if you're in the mood for a richly rewarding evening at the movies,
think about taking in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. If you are already familiar
with the Bard's work, your enjoyment will be increased, but you needn't
know much about his plays to savor this delectable film.
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality
Running time: 123 mins.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.