Shakespeare in Love
- John Madden
- Reviewed by
- a.k.a. Jacinda
- Review date
- Friday, August 03, 2001
Set in 1593, young Will (Joseph Fiennes) is an aspiring author who writes plays for two competing theaters. He is short on money, uninspired and only the second choice after Christopher Marlowe (Rupert Everett). When he starts working on his next play titled ‘Romeo and Ethel, the pirate’s daughter’ he meets Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) and is mesmerized. Viola is madly in love with poetry and disguises as a man to sneak into Will’s theater group. She becomes his muse and inspiration to write ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Soon the lovers have to face the fact that Viola is forced to marry Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) at the order of Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench). Will’s personal tragedy seems inevitable. Their passionate love can find its fulfillment only on stage...
Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman ingeniously play with elements of Elizabethan theater. They created a modern version of what Shakespeare could have been like in his early years. He is not yet aware of his own genius and has to deal with problems that are well known to modern audiences. Joseph Fiennes is the perfect casting choice for this daring role. Indeed we get to see a compelling man who has to find his inner balance. His perfect match is Lady Viola, the young woman whose deepest love is the theater. Together they find the essence of true love by taking on the roles of Romeo and Juliet.
The plot plays with fact and fiction in a humorous way – the approach focuses on the idea that Shakespeare’s plays were actually inspired by his real life experiences. There are innumerous references to his plays in the movie – most notably to Romeo and Juliet, but also to The Two Gentleman of Verona, The Tempest, Twelfth Night and the Sonnets.
What makes this movie so perfect is not only the blend between fact and fiction, but also the blend between romance and comedy. The play with historically authentic elements makes it one of the funniest and most enjoyable romantic comedies ever. Not to forget about the outstanding supporting cast of hilarious characters – Geoffrey Rush as Fennyman, Ben Affleck as Ned Alleyn, the ‘Tom Cruise among actors in the 16th century’, and the one and only Judi Dench as the funniest Queen Elizabeth in film history.
Another important aspect of the movie is the definition of gender roles. Theater was considered an immoral business in these days. It was kept alive due to Queen Elizabeth’s personal fondness to be entertained. Young men played the female roles on stage. In Shakespeare in Love a woman breaks the social rules and dresses up as man to fulfill her dreams. Cross-dressing is a common phenomenon in Shakespeare’s plays and it is also a topic in the movie. Viola doesn’t give in to her assigned role as a woman and has to fear to be punished for it. Gwyneth Paltrow gives an outstanding performance that earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress. She shines on screen and makes us fall in love with poetry all over again.
After all this story is there to entertain us and it succeeds on every level. The witty dialogue combined with the hilarious characters and situations add up to a masterfully crafted romantic comedy.
Shakespeare in Love is a multi-layered modern classic that I love “beyond poetry”.
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Other reviews of Shakespeare in Love (1998): Morris