Courtesy Photo
**** 120 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, December 25, 1998
Directed by John Madden

Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Judi Dench, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck, Simon Callow, Jim Carter, Martin Clunes, Anthony Sher, Imelda Staunton, Tom Wilkinson & Mark Williams

This film is on the Best of 1998 list.


Definately a keeper, and a good movie for cuddling up on the couch, but the more cinematic the experience, the better. Madden did not shoot "Shakespeare" with video in mind.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 8/10/99

Tom Stoppard helps pen another mock Shakespearean masterpiece

By Rob Blackwelder

For those of you familiar with "Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," Tom Stoppard's devilishly inventive stage and film bent on "Hamlet" that tells the story of two of Shakespeare's doomed minor characters instead of sticking with the melancholy Dane, all you need know about "Shakepeare in Love" is that Stoppard co-wrote it (with Marc Norman). It's deft, funny, manifold, mock-Shakespearean genius. QED.

If the previous paragraph means nothing to you, read on, because this is the most deliciously witty film of the year.

A "what if" romantic comedy about a dashing young William Shakespeare discovering that Gwyneth Paltrow is a great cure for writer's block, "Shakepeare in Love" is a sharp, classy, beguiling, endlessly entertaining satire that borrows knowingly from the Bard as it follows his fictional struggle to write a comedy called "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter."

Joseph Fiennes (who plays the queen's lover in "Elizabeth," this winter's other Elizabethan Oscar contender) stars as a brooding, hunky Shakespeare -- a Renaissance Calvin Klein model with ink-stained hands from his endless hours at the quill.

Commissioned to write a low-brow comedy that will fuel a rivalry between two theaters, he's stuck in a rut and winging his way through rehearsals without a script until he meets Viola (Paltrow), a radiant heiress whose passion for poetry and the stage drives her to audition for a role disguised as a man (women were not allowed to act in Elizabethan England).

Viola has been betrothed to the odious but titled Lord Wessex (Colin Firth), but is at heart a romantic, determined to have poetry, adventure and love "like a riot in the heart."

As an engrossing romance blossoms between the playwright and this girl, the perceived tragedy of it all (she's about to be married and he is already) inspires "Romeo and Ethel" to become something different all together, leading to a rash of re-writes, confused actors, dubious producers and one red-faced fiancé.

Directed by John Madden ("Mrs. Brown"), "Shakespeare in Love" combines contemporary and classical comedy with an inventive historical re-write, borrowed elements of Shakespeare's plays and sublime performances from a pedigree cast so extraordinary that the movie is worth watching just to see these stars strut their stuff.

Fiennes, who was a bit dry in "Elizabeth," is a perfect romanticized William Shakespeare, channeling and parodying some of the Bard's own characters as he's driven to his most famous work by love.

As Fiennes' impassioned muse, Paltrow is even more ideal for as Viola than she was as the title character in "Emma." Most capable of tackling the prose-laden dialogue, she is in a dream role, playing, directly and indirectly, several Shakespeare characters as well as her own. Disguised as a man she reads Romeo in Shakespeare's developing production, then gets to play Juliet in the climax when the fair boy cast in Shakespeare's production suddenly finds his voice starting to break. Paltrow has staked her claim to some Oscar territory here.

Scene-stealing buffoon Geoffrey Rush (who was also in "Elizabeth") is the dentally challenged and financially strapped owner of the theater where "Romeo and Ethel" is quickly becoming something other than the slapstick parody he commissioned. Tom Wilkinson ("The Governess," "The Full Monty") is an Elizabethan loan shark who is offered producer credit while leaning on Rush to repay a loan.

Rupert Everett ("My Best Friend's Wedding") in an choice, uncredited role, plays Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary and rival of Shakespeare's, from whom Will seeks advice and pilfers ideas.

Ben Affleck is a pleasant surprise as a talented but self-important actor whom Shakespeare convinces to take a certain supporting role by telling him the play is called "Mercutio."

But the incomparable Judi Dench runs away with the movie's most memorable moments playing a wickedly droll Queen Elizabeth. This is her second English monarch in as many years, and in all likelihood will receive her second royalty-related Oscar nod (she was nominated last year for the lead in "Mrs. Brown," a bio of Queen Victoria).

Even without a working knowledge of the man's writing, "Shakespeare in Love" rivals the best romantic comedies. But the genius of this picture is in its compounded, yet easy to follow, intricacies worthy of the Bard himself (Romance! Tragedy! Sex! Slapstick! Sword fights!) and the frequent interjection of plot points and other nods to Shakespeare's plays that are beyond mere cleverness. This is a comedic and romantic masterpiece that would make Shakespeare proud.

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