Movie #64: Shakespeare in Love (1998)

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Director: John Madden

Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, and Colin Firth

A young William Shakespeare (Fiennes) is struggling to make a living and finish his current playwright, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter.  He meets and falls in love with Viola de Lesseps (Paltrow), who first poses as a male actor trying to take part in the new production.  Many themes and elements of his relationship with Viola, a woman of nobility who is pledged to Lord Wessex (Firth), come forth as he re-writes and modifies his work that becomes Romeo and Juliet.

 

 

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In this film John Madden takes two young and relatively unknown performers and provides a fresh perspective.  Paltrow had done Emma the year before, and Fiennes also starred in Elizabeth in 98.  Joseph Fiennes does a good job in these types of films.  Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth, and Luther are probably his three most successful films.

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The supporting cast provides a lot of good-natured humor and help anchor the film.  Geoffery Rush is a delight as well as Tim Wilkinson as Philip Henslowe and Hugh Fennyman.  The opening scene was particularly entertaining, and at times the two seem to be out of the loop just enough for the humorous elements.  Ben Affleck, though he has good stage presence, seems out-of-place in this film.  Perhaps it is because I don’t really like him, but honestly I can’t think of who could have done better.

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When I first heard that Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film.  Though she only appears in three scenes (the first two of which I didn’t care for), this viewing of Shakespeare in Love helped me to realize why she received this award.  Her stage presence, especially at the end of the film, provided a lot of finality and resolution to the questions of Shakespeare and Viola’s relationship and the role of women in the theater.

I’d be interested to watch this alongside Elizabeth, starring Kate Blanchett and released the same year as Shakespeare in Love.  Both films were successful, and nominated for Best Picture.  The differences between Blanchett and Dench would make for an interesting comparison.

I’ve always been fascinated with history, and while the era of Elizabethan theater isn’t one I’ve looked into a lot, it’s charming and interesting to see it played out on the big screen.

Another strength of Shakespeare in Love is how much it humanizes Shakespeare.  He had struggles, he wrestled with the common themes throughout his work, at least through the eyes of this story.  Yes, it’s fiction, but it’s believable at the same time as something that realistically could have happened.

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Shakespeare in Love tells a story of how Shakespeare wrote one of his most famous plays.  Yes, the story itself is fiction, but it’s charming and just light enough to be enjoyed by the masses.  While I probably won’t watch this one again, it was enjoyable this time around.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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