A female theatre dresser creates a stir and sparks a revolution in seventeenth century London theatre by playing Desedmona in Othello. But what will become of the male actor she once worked for and eventually replaced?
Set in Victorian London, Gwendolen Harleth is drawn to Daniel Deronda, a selfless and intelligent gentleman of unknown parentage, but her own desperate need for financial security may destroy her chance at happiness.
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Jonny Lee Miller,
Based in the 1660's of London's theaters, this film is about the rules of gender roles in theatre production, and means to change them for everyone's benefit. Ned Kynaston is the assumedly gay cross-dressing actor who has been playing female parts in plays for years, particularly Desdemona in Othello, he also has a close relationship with a member of the Royal Court, the Duke of Buckingham. One day however, the rules of only men playing women could change when aspiring actress Maria auditions as Kynaston's praised role, Desdemona, and soon enough, King Charles II decides to make the law that all female roles should be played only by women. Maria becomes a star, while Ned finds himself out of work. But after a while, Ned finds it in his nature to forgive Maria's aspiration, they may even fall in love, and Charles may proclaim women will be played by either gender. Written by
The full title of the stage play behind this movie is Compleat Female Stage Beauty, which was reportedly the advertising poster slogan for Kynaston's female impersonations. See more »
The word "fan" (short for "fanatic"), meaning an enthusiastic admirer, was not used in this sense until the late eighteenth century. See more »
You know, Mr. K, the performance of yours I always liked best? As much as I adored your Desdemona and your Juliet, I've always loved best your 'britches' parts. Rosalind, for instance. And not just because of the woman stuff but also because of the man sections. Your performance of the man stuff seemed so right, so true. I suppose I felt it was the most real in the play.
You know why the man stuff seemed so real? Because I'm pretending. You see a man through the mirror of a woman through the ...
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We sat for the first few minutes wondering whether we'd come to the right film (expecting a formulaic period romp). And for a little while I was prepared to spend the rest of the evening apologising to my partner for the slowness and oddness of the film. But once our disbelief had been suspended and we'd got used to the cramped feeling of the film (more like a staged version than cinematic at times), we both loved it.
I agree that Claire Danes acted well (though the hyperventilation happened once too often) and Billy Crudup brought a complexity to the role that I rarely see in films. The reference to Shakespeare in Love is an affectionate comparison: I enjoyed the light snack of Gwinny, luvvies and Fiennes and have sat through the DVD time and again. But that film had a predictability that Stage Beauty lacked. We didn't know that Stage Beauty's 'love element' would ever work out.
I do not see the development of the relationship between Danes and Crudup as a conversion from gay to straight. Instead I see a problematic progress from an imposed gender identity (perpetuated through sexual fantasy by Buckingham) to an un"knowing" but more satisfying state, where it's being yourself (whatever that is) not performing a role that counts. I think that this is relevant to all of us as we perform the roles that we and those who've influenced our upbringing have created for ourselves. We can't easily escape them (and some are more hammy than others in their performance) but the knowledge that life is performative and complex is, for me, liberating.
And all that from a costume drama!
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