Shakespeare in Love (1998)
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Viola is a first class lady who is about to be married to Lord Wessex, a man who she does not love. Her heart belongs to poetry, mainly the poetry of William Shakespeare. William has lost all hope though when his heart is broken by his girlfriend and he is writing a comedy called Romeo and Ethyl, the pirate's daughter. Since the plays are only played by an all male cast, Viola dresses up as a man and auditions for his new play. She receives the part of Romeo; later that night at a big party her father is throwing, she meets Shakespeare and it is love at first sight. When William finds out the truth that she is the boy who loves his poetry, he doesn't care, they have a passionate affair and continue on with the play as if she were a boy. But the plot thickens and Viola knows that she must go back to her life of an unwanted love and marriage.
Shakespeare in Love is without a doubt a fine film and should have a higher rating in my book. I don't understand why so many people hate this film, I thought it was extremely clever and witty. It had a beautiful love story, it was funny, it was sad; there's nothing wrong with this film, but hey, everyone's a critic, right? I highly recommend Shakespeare in Love, just trust me, if you enjoy Shakespeare and his poetry, I'm sure you'll love this film. Just give it a chance, who cares about the Oscars? They make mistakes at times, but Shakespeare in Love is a great movie and I enjoyed watching it.
In fact the overall story we are presented with is not new. Anyone who had read or seen `Romeo and Juliet' will have a pretty shrewd idea of the path the narrative takes - the twist is that in the film, Shakespeare writes the play `Romeo and Juliet' in parallel to, and based on, his `real life' relationship with Lady Viola.
The opening sees Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) desperately trying to write the masterpiece `Romeo and Ethel, the Pirates Daughter', a comedy he hopes will rival anything by Christopher Marlow (Rupert Everett). Words fail him until his muse appears in the shape of Lady Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), a noblewoman whose love for the work of Shakespeare's leads her to dress as a boy (since at the time women were not allowed on stage) and attend an audition in disguise (mistaken identity and women dressing as men are devices Shakespeare often used in his comedies). She is given the role of Romeo and begins a forbidden relationship with Shakespeare, the only one who knows her real identity, in spite of the fact that she is betrothed to the villainous Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) at Queen Elizabeth's (Judi Dench) command.
Fiennes portrays Shakespeare wonderfully and not as the infallible master of rhetoric. He takes the Bard from the pedestal and brings him down to a human level that we can all sympathise with. His relationship with Paltrow is handled sensitively, although many of the scenes that are exclusively their own did have enough a little too much `Chick-Flick' for my liking. Paltrow's R.P. accent is technically very good, and though I normally like my English to be played by the English, I was as happily surprised by her performance as I was by Ben Affleck's brief, but memorable portrayal of the self-important Ned Alleyn. Much of the credit, though, must go to Michelle Guish for the wonderful supporting cast including: Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Imelda Staunton, Jim Carter, Martin Clunes and Geoffrey Rush, to name but a few.
John Madden directs hypnotically and constantly keeps the camera on the move but most credit for the film must go to Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard for their cunning and often self-parodying script. The only comment I would make is regarding the sheer number of theatre references. Those who have worked in the theatre will be aware of many, if not all, of the in-jokes that the film is littered with. Those who have not may be left with the feeling that they have been excluded from much of the content.
One thing that stood out was the way they showed enough of the performance of Romeo and Juliet so that you could understand what the play is about, without making it a film of the play per se. There are many parallels between the fictional play and the events of the film, and this goes to underscore the relevance of great literature to the human condition. The actual performance of the play was acted so well that there were times when a character in the play was in a fight and I said to myself "they're really fighting, that guy really got stabbed!" So often a play within a movie is acted in a very staged manner, so this was a welcome surprise. And for anyone who is a fan of Shakespeare, it is easy to find little tidbits to reflect upon - such as the fact that Shakespeare himself was fond of the "play within a play" theme that we see in this film.
The performances are excellent throughout, including minor characters. In the midst of tragedy there is genuine comic relief, just as in Shakespeare. The historical details that surround the conjectural main plot are accurate down to the names of the actual people with whom Shakespeare crossed paths. In the end "Shakespeare in Love" causes us to feel as well as think, to think as well as to be entertained.
The sets of England 400 years ago, the costumes and the character's makeup including their bad dental work were just right. You could almost smell those streets. The hero, Shakespeare, is excellently played by Joseph Fiennes. He is sympathetic but never pathetic. As for Gwyneth Paltrow, she shows her range from boyishness to radiance. This is the first film I have seen her in where I believed she could become a great actress. There is also a great supporting cast, especially Judi Dench, who all have good melodramatic and comic instincts.
The film never plods. The screenplay is rich with romance, emotion and action. The plot weaves several stories and themes. You can enjoy it as a simple love story with some action and basic suspense about producing a play or you can get much deeper into movie's complex tapestry of ideas and in jokes. But most importantly the film's mood is always light and is never overblown (unlike another recent movie about unfulfilled love, Great Expectations).
Deserving of its Oscar, this is simply a great film.
Well this movie was different. Don't be afraid of the word Shakespeare in the title! This movie is not a junior-high history lesson. It's light, funny, romantic, and a totally irreverent look at Elizabethan England.
The screenplay is brilliant. The best writing in a movie I've seen this year. The idea is that Shakespeare is not some grave, great poet, but a young guy trying to make his way in the theatre. He's written good plays, but nothing truly transcendent. The conceit is that an ill-fated romance--the one great true love of this life--with a beautiful, smart woman is what inspires him to write his first immortal play: Romeo and Juliet.
In this era of world-exploding actioners and cookie-cutter Adam Sandler movies, it's rare to see such a specific, ingenious, and inspired story for a film.
The best part about this movie is its sense of humor. It plays with history, takes a great man abut whom we know alomost nothing, and creates a fantasy about his life that is totally outrageous, funny and real.
Also, the movie is really romantic. The costumes are lush, the leads look great and have real chemistry together. I used to think that Gwyneth was overrated, but here she's radiant. And Joe Fiennes has an intensity and a vulnerabiliy, as well as a sense of humor, that I for one find sorely lacking in his older brother Ralph.
Needless to say, this is the best date movie of the year. Women take note: I am a red-blooded straight American male, and I loved it. Take your boyfriends to see this movie. It will make up for you forcing them to sit through The Piano.
The story (if we can call it that) is no more than a simple collection of lines from the Bard's plays, blended together into a weak two-hour script. Adding pieces of Shakespeare's life into the mix, they pretend to explain the origin of famous lines and stories surrounding him, such as Shakespeare's relationship with Thomas Kent, who in truth was a man (it was widely accepted that William Shakespeare was bisexual). While the movie has no basis in reality, even as a work of fiction it fails miserably.
Gwyneth Paltrow gives an unimpressing and incredibly boring performance, looking like a Cate Blanchet wannabe, pretending to sound like Emma Thompson or Kate Winslet in her role as Viola, and like Kenneth Branagh when impersonating Thomas Kent. It's understandable, considering Thompson and Branagh have defined modern Shakespearean cinema, but her performance ends up being a weak attempt at emulating the masters of the genre. Every time she appears on-screen, she simply destroys the atmosphere of Elizabethan England (an atmosphere that is thin to begin with); she is simply out of place. So was Ben Affleck, but at least he didn't talk that much.
There are a few shinning stars in the pic, though. Joseph Fiennes and Geoffrey Rush give amazing performances given the weak script they had to work with, dashing the movie with a dose of comedy and great acting that carries the story at times, but not for 2 hours.
Shakespeare in Love' is okay as a mass-market date movie, a pic for those that have no idea what Shakespeare's plays are all about, a pic for the Teeny-Bopper crowd, but not as an Oscar Nominated Film. On the contrary, it is a perfect example why Hollywood should stick to doing Hollywood and leave the realm of art films for those with the correct vision to bring them to life. If it's Elizabethan cinema you are after, go see Elizabeth' (you'll get great performances by Joseph Fiennes and Geoffrey Rush, too!). If it's a date movie you're after, see She's All That;' at least it doesn't pretend to be what it is not.
If ever there was a film that didn't deserve any accolades, this is it. Possibly the most trite, predictable script to come out of the Hollywood cookie-cutter this year, and Hollywood once again displays its vapidity and lauds it. Ridiculous.
Maybe even worse than the Best Picture travesty, was the Best Actress Oscar for Gwyneth Paltrow. I didn't think that the criteria for Best Actress was smiling demurely and showing off your breasts a lot. Sadly enough, that's what it appears to have become. Cate Blanchett deserved the Oscar so much more, as least to anyone to half a brain. However, you don't see her chest in the movie, so no Oscar. Disgusting.
Tom Stoppard must have had a serious off day when he wrote this. I can't believe this is the same guy who wrote "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead". I only hope that it was a joke, or maybe he lost a bet. Depressing.
Worst movie of the year? Maybe not, but definitely a contender, and by far the most overrated movie of the decade.
But that's just about all there is to this pleasant piece of fluff. It lacks any real substance, and for all the nods to Shakespeare and the smoldering stares, is basically your average, contrived love story. It has none of the depth that made The Truman Show and Elizabeth so outstanding.
An enjoyable, cute, picture? Certainly. The best of the year? Definitely not.
The film is just not funny. The idea of Shakespeare in a writing slump might have been good, but the forced insertion of the romance element is just concocted to extract some easy sighs from the viewer. How many of them were due to the movie, and how many to the thought of the $8 gone forever, I cannot say. The romance is as deja vu as it gets, the jokes are trite. The material would have been enough for a 20 minutes Monty Python sketch (with oh-so-more hilarious results), not for a full length feature film.
If you want to see a witty film of Shakesperean ambience, go rent the delicious Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard.
Joseph Fiennes wears the same expression for the whole movie, and almost manages to make you think that Roger Moore was not so bad after all. Ben Affleck (Ben, how could you go from "chasing amy to this?) acts as if he didn't really know where he is. Geoffrey Rush is confirming once more how Hollywood money can ruin a once brilliant actor.
I finally saw it recently (July 1999) and I do not understand it's popularity. It is an interesting concept for a movie, but the execution was flat and uninteresting to me. I forced myself to watch through to the end, which was, thankfully, not typical Hollywood, but was still not enough to have made it an interesting viewing experience.
Take the hype with a grain of salt. You may enjoy it, as many people did, but if you don't...don't feel alone.
London, 1593. Young Shakespeare is suffering a severe case of writer's block and he can't write anything. These are bad news for Phillip Henslowe, owner of The Rose (one of the most important playhouses of London at that time), who's in desperate need of a new play in order to pay his debts. In other part of the city, Lady Viola De Lesseps, daughter of a rich merchant is eager to be part of an acting company, even though women were not allowed to be on stage and let alone become actors. What they don't know is that destiny has a surprise for both of them: she will become his muse and inspires him to write again and he gives her a long-awaited opportunity by being part of the new play (although cheating a little since she has to dress herself as a man). But things won't be so easy for Viola, because she has been promised in marriage to Lord Wessex and she'll have to leave Will.
The screenplay offers us a completely different and fresh approach to Shakespeare and the Elizabethan period by choosing to explore a very risky field: the romantic comedy and the result could have been horrifying. Fortunately that never happens and instead we get a wonderfully charming and clever meditation about love as the greatest inspiration we'll ever find in life.
Also the acting is a pretty important element for the movie's success: all the actors deliver delightful performances, from Geoffrey Rush as Henslowe, Judi Dench (Oscar winner for this performance) as a complete scene-stealer Queen Elizabeth, Joseph Fiennes who gives Shakespeare a charisma that make people wonder if the real Shakespeare could have had and Gwyneth Paltrow, in her Oscar-winning performance as Viola, who assumes the risk of playing not one, but four characters and makes it in a wonderful way.
The production values, such as Sandy Powell's magnificent costume design, Stephen Warbeck's beautiful score also give the movie the necessary credibility and immerse the audience into a possibly not 100% historically accurate, but undeniably fantastic experience that makes us believe inspiration is possible to find.
Here's what's wrong with it:
Story: basically it's quite a nice story with some interesting plot lines. Unfortunately, the director decided not to make it too difficult for his intended big audience, so predictability kills surprise in almost every scene. No character twists either, everyone stays safely inside their dictated personage. I had the futile hope that Juliette would really stab herself to death with the dagger in the last scene of the play, but alas.
Casting: the biggest flaw of the film. I understand the fact that American actors are hired to play Britons, I guess you just can't do without some Hollywood celebs in such a venture. But Gwyneth Paltrow? Joseph Fiennes?? Ben Affleck??? OK, Fiennes is British, but has absolutely no charisma and must have been used just for his good looks. Firth and Dench are quite alright but have only minor parts.
Humor: I get sick of this kind of childish, predictable, unwitty and totally unfunny humor. I'm guessing I'm not the only one.
All in all a very mediocre film, despite the fact that it was the big winner at the Oscars (which is a big farce anyhow).
This film concocts a purely fictional story wherein Shakespeare experiences writer's block while working on his new play 'Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter'. Meanwhile, the wealthy Viola, who's a fan of Shakespeare's plays and is engaged to marry the (quite predictably cold hearted) Lord Wessex, has always dreamed of becoming an actress herself. As acting is unacceptable in that era for a woman, she disguises herself as a boy to audition for the part of Romeo on stage. Thus begins a romance between the Bard and Viola, who is his inspiration for the immortal play we now know as Romeo and Juliet.
First of all, it's not exactly an original concept, the poor oppressed woman who's downtrodden because of her gender and not free to assume her desired profession, in this case acting. Rather an overworked theme. (I'm a woman, by the way). Gwyneth Paltrow is a lovely young actress, so it's nothing personal. Also, there are wonderful Oscar winning costumes. Really, however, this movie is basically a bedroom frolic about Will. I notice a few are claiming that a more appropriate title might be Shakespeare in Lust.
It really isn't right to concoct these fictitious tales, and for those who found it amusing & romantic...well, your entertainment was at the expense of an actual human being nearly four centuries deceased. He may or may not have appreciated it, but is not around to express his views. For those who claim that Shakespeare would be proud, I question these supernatural powers of discerning the attitudes of the long deceased. Instead of wasting time on this foolish movie, it might be better spent reading or viewing one of Shakespeare's plays on stage, or watching Franco Zeffirelli's beautiful 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
My son (now a college freshman) was shown this silly Shakespeare in Love during an enriched high school English class a couple of years ago. He could never quite fathom what possible educational purpose this nonsense was intended to serve. Perhaps, as one reviewer suggested, the purpose of this film was to inform the modern world that Shakespeare had sex. Or if it's intended as an irreverent view of Elizabethan England, as some claim, we could well have managed without.
My favourite of all the comments read is that this movie has nothing whatsoever to do with Shakespeare other than to steal his good name. And sorry, I guess I'm just not one of those who can get much of a laugh out of the title 'Romeo and Ethel the Pirates's Daughter'. I find it quite a pathetic and juvenile attempt at humour, most definitely not Oscar caliber.
This play serves as the ultimate turn-off for potential Shakespeare fans and established ones alike. Skeptical neophytes often dismiss Shakespeare, assuming that fans are merely drawn to Elizabethan pronouns, accents, and costumes. Their prejudice will be confirmed by this picture, if they assume this is a reflection of the real thing.
The language is uninspired, even by Hollywood's standards. Bugs Bunny does a better job of twisting a line. The hallmarks of Shakespeare's writing go missing here.
I wonder - how many people were tempted to read a Shakespeare play who never had, based on a viewing of this movie? Mozart got a better 'shake' with Amadeus, a movie which generated enthusiasm for his music. Amadeus patronized banality, but never sunk below.
Terrible music also.
I give this movie a 3, in honor of the costumes and staging.
Shakespeare in Love starts promisingly: a hilarious presentation by a debtor to those he owes money to of an early storyline of Romeo and Juliet. Soon after, however, the constant references to Shakespeare's oeuvre become stiff and un-amusing. For instance, a clergyman yells "a plague o' both their houses!" referring to two rival theatres, which becomes a line in Romeo and Juliet. Not too bad? Well consider the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet being inspired by a similar encounter between Will and Gwyneth (alas, foiled by the Nurse, whose persistent calling for Juliet also makes it into the scene). Comic relief is soon provided in limited, spaced-out bursts (between the numerous sex scenes of course).
Perhaps my negative view of Shakespeare in Love is influenced by a vendetta I have against it. The film did not deserve 1999's Best Picture award, which should have gone to either Saving Private Ryan, Life is Beautiful, or The Thin Red Line. It practically swept the Oscars with 7 wins, which often it did not deserve. Gwyneth Paltrow won the Best Actress award. Apparently, perpetually flashing fleeting smiles and flaunting one's breasts (literally her breasts are probably shown about 13 times) are Best Actress qualifications. Judi Dench won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for about 10 minutes of screen time, where she does what the Queen does best (i.e. save the day), but without making the performance particularly memorable or endearing.
And now for the redeeming qualities: Shakespeare in Love undoubtedly had some fine music. The music was purely opulent and made many of the scenes "watch-able". The film's strongest scene would have to be when someone (whose name I completely forget, but at the same time, couldn't care less) goes into the theatre where a rehearsal is taking place and a duel ensues with Shakespeare. Comically, musically, dramatically, and directorially, it is the film's most solid scene, and I briefly had hopes (which were mercilessly dashed) that the film might become good.
And now for some acting criticism: Joseph Fiennes is one of the most amateur actors I have ever had to endure watching one of the poorest choices available for Shakespeare. Paltrow was bad enough where fleeting smiles were concerned Fiennes makes her look like a genius. Ben Affleck plays well, an Elizabethan Ben Affleck.
The Verdict: A mediocre film at best, Shakespeare in Love was over-hyped, and definitely did not deserve all those Oscars it grabbed. Its Best Picture win is a direct slap in the face to two of the greatest masterpieces ever made (and The Thin Red Line, which should'vie won SOMETHING that year it's a very good movie!). Cliché, stale, and uninteresting, I swear I thought my brains melted about 40 minutes into the movie. An agonizing experience for the most part. Geoffrey Rush is the best part of the movie.
Overall Rating: 2/10