A female theatre dresser creates a stir and sparks a revolution in seventeenth century London theatre by playing Desdemona in Othello. But what will become of the male actor she once worked for and eventually replaced?
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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
This movie has the blessing of the flawless direction of Richard Eyre, who knows a lot about kings and queens. The screen play is adapted by the author of the play, Jeffrey Hatcher. Surprisingly, these two men have been able to create a film that is not only visually satisfying, but it also is an adult entertainment.
This movie gives us a glimpse of how theatre functioned in England up to the times of Charles II. The female roles of all plays were portrayed by male actors. The school of acting in that era was an artificial one where actors relied in gestures and affectations that would be laughable today in a serious drama, but that was the way it was the accepted Method then, nothing to do with Stanivslaski, or Strassberg.
The leading figure of that theatrical world was Ned Keynaston, who was the most famous Desdemona of his time. There must have been a lot of gay men that were attracted to that world, as was the case with Mr. Keynaston, who might have been bisexual, although that comes as a secondary subplot. This actor is greatly admired by all, including the dressing assistant, Maria. This girl loved to be in the theatre, but could not, because only men were allowed. So instead, she goes to a second rate company that puts on plays in a pub and emerges as Margaret Hughes, an actress in her own right who will challenge Keynaston's Desdemona and makes that role, her signature role as well.
Claire Danes, as Maria, or Margaret Hughes, has never been better! She shines as the girl whose ambition is to be on stage. She is wonderful in the part. Ned, played with gusto by Billy Crudup, shows an unexpected range, although he has done theatre extensively. Both of these actors takes us back to London and make us believe that what we are watching.
A glorious English cast behind the two American principals are gathered to play effortlessly the theatrical figures of the time, and also the King and his court. Ruper Everett, as King Charles II, is hilarious. The scene in which he plays in drag with his mistress, Nell Gwynn, is one of the best things of the movie. Also, Richard Griffith, as lecherous Sir Charles Sedley, gives a stellar performance. Ben Chaplin, as the Duke of Buckingham, reveals the ambiguity of the men that were attracted to those early thespians.
Thoroughly enjoyable because of Richard Eyre's direction and eye for detail.
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