Stage Beauty (2004) Poster

(2004)

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8/10
Not for dogmatists of any stripe...
quixotegrrl27 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Those who have something invested in keeping the boundaries of gender and sexuality rigid will be offended by this film, whether they be religious fundamentalist types or gay-rights advocates who argue from the constrictive either/or framing of their opponents. Fundamentalists (and I used to be one!) would, at the same time, find material to support their nurture-not-nature conclusions in Ned Kynaston's background (implicit victimization at the hands of an implicit pedophile), the bigoted comments of the king about effeminate boys, and most of all the actor's eventual orientation "reversal" at the hands of the "right woman." This, of course, would anger those who have chosen to engage them in the loaded "is it a choice?" battle which completely dismisses the B in LGBT. If you are coming from an angle in which no Kinsey scale exists, then the offense makes sense.

I think it's a mistaken angle, however. My only complaints about this movie were minor, and involved poor editing, unnecessary dialogue, and a couple of unlikely scenarios (e.g. the carriage ladies' hyperbolic reaction to Ned's petticoat surprise). Otherwise, I loved it - enough to watch it four times on DVD. For me, this story was about identity, authenticity, the malleability of gender and sexuality, and the difference between love and projection.

At the bustling outset of the film, Ned (pitch-perfect Billy Crudup, ravishing in any incarnation) is arrogant and narcissistic; his self-regard is balanced perilously upon a constructed self that relies on the applause of others. Alone with Maria, we get a glimmer of something else in him when he pauses contemplatively to quote his mentor - "Never forget that you are a man in woman's form...or was it the other way 'round?" This hint at an awareness (on his or the film's part) of the essential duality of human nature is echoed by Maria - "You would make as fine a man as any woman."

When Ned loses his role and his audience to Maria, he loses his very identity; in this way, she "kills" him. The theme of killing and dying is cleverly woven throughout the narrative, both onstage and off. (But more on that presently.)

Lost and literally beaten, Ned turns to his former lover, who spurns him with droll indifference. Ned is no longer the shallow Duke's glittering projection but a raw, needy, and very messy human being. Ned's disastrous last-ditch attempt to play Othello for the king in order to save his livelihood is the final humiliation. Maria watches his disintegration onstage, and grasps his utter vulnerability for the first time. It's a credit to Claire Danes' talent that she can speak volumes without uttering a word; in this scene and the inn scene her unexpressed love bleeds from every pore.

The almost-sex scene between the two at the inn is one of my favorite love scenes in any film. The gentle role-switching from "man" to "woman" (in alternate parlance, "top" to "bottom" or "dominant" to "submissive") leads to a passionate confusion in which, if you'll notice, Ned tells Maria (astride him) first that she is the "woman" - "And now?" she says, kissing and caressing him - "The woman," he says - "And now?" she says, her passion intensifying - "The man," he murmurs. Do the roles really matter? If only he had shut up about Desdemona! But there is still some "dying" left to do, and not in the Shakespearian sense. Call it evening the score.

For alas, Maria is a terrible actress: as affected as Ned was, and twice as false. In rehearsal with someone who evokes her own passion, however, her performance begins to come alive.

The harrowing climax of the film has the viewer wondering, along with the theatre audience, if the newfound Othello's murderous passion is real. And it is, which is why Ned is so good at it. In "killing" Maria onstage, he manages at once to work out his Othello-like ambivalence and rage toward a woman he also loves; to "kill" her affected stage persona; and to give birth to himself as an authentic actor in his own male body. It's damn near perfect.

"Finally got the death scene right." Ned may not yet know who or even what he is, but he finds expression of his innermost being with a person who loves and accepts him for whomever he may turn out to be. We should all be so lucky.
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Sumptuous, passionate, raw - a gorgeous, romantic film
Colette Corr3 December 2004
'Without beauty, there's nothing. Who could love that?' (Ned Kynaston, Stage Beauty)

Don't expect an elegant historical romp from Stage Beauty; it's much more than that. Director Richard Eyre (Iris) and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher have loosely interpreted true events to deliver a passionate, romantic journey of gender-bending self-realisation set in the bawdy world of the British Restoration, circa 1660.

In a time when women are banned from acting on stage, King Charles II is on the throne, accompanied everywhere by his vulgar but merry mistress, Nell Gwnn. Meanwhile Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) is the most celebrated leading lady of his time. He is adored…by his audiences, by his lover and patron the Duke of Buckingham, and secretly loved by his dresser Maria (Claire Danes). But when aspiring actress Maria's illegal performance as Desdemona in Othello triggers royal permission for women to act on stage, Kynaston's fall from grace is swift.

This is an actors' film, where the talents of Danes and in particular, Crudup, shine. (Their remarkable relationship triggered an off-screen romance.) Crudup is taut as the bisexual Kynaston, trained to be a calamity and actress since early adolescence, and emotes powerfully as he struggles with his sexuality and identity in an unfriendly new political landscape. He is alternately a catty drag queen, angry young man and committed thespian, without ever straying beyond credibility. In contrast, Danes is luminous but unsure as Maria. A talented supporting cast includes Rupert Everett, providing comic relief as the languid King, while Ben Chaplin is sensual as the self-serving Duke.

Stage Beauty has been compared to Shakespeare in Love, but although it's less successful, it's far less contrived. Although Stage Beauty is a love story, you don't know how things will resolve. The pace is less brisk than in a more manufactured film, but it's also more realistic, enhanced by production design and costuming which depicts both the grit and the sumptuousness of the time.

While at first the on stage acting grates, it is deliberate. As Stage Beauty progresses, the acting technique evolves to resemble 19th Century Naturalism – not true to life, but faithful to the emotional journey of the characters. It's a special film that will take you on an emotional journey too.

**** out of ***** stars.
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8/10
The bad and the beautiful
yoyomagoo20 September 2004
Stage Beauty is another adaptation of a play. Yawn? Well don't, because it also happens to make a highly successful transition from stage to screen thanks to the genius that is director Richard Eyre.

It tells the tale of Ned (Billy Crudup), a young actor who specialises in portraying women on stage. In a world where only men are allowed to tread the boards, Ned's "Desdemona" (from Shakespeare's Othello) is the closest thing 17th century audiences get to femininity in theatre. However, a young upstart in the form of Maria (played by Clare Danes) wants to change all that. She has a passion for drama and unfortunately the bisexual Ned. With the help of King Charles II (Rupert Everett), she may just get her wish, changing theatre forever, and hopefully pick up Ned on the way.

When thinking of the themes of the film, many people dismiss it as a clone of Shakespeare in Love. This is unfair- the film is more thought provoking, substantial and better acted than the aforementioned Oscar snaffler. It explores themes of sexuality and gender with insight and intelligence as well as telling (and, in fact enthralling us with) a love story. As previously referred to, the acting is exceptional, especially the two leads (Danes and Crudup) who shine. The supporting cast is strong too, with Richard Griffiths as a heterosexual prequel to his role in Withnail and I, Tom Wilkinson brimming with quiet intensity as Betterton and Everett hamming it up wonderfully as the King.

Even if it does end on a slightly trite note (not to give too much away, but its' "birth of method acting" shtick irritates), Stage Beauty is a funny, heart-warming and occasionally quite cerebral meditation on love and art. What more could any theatre, or film lover for that matter, want? And don't say Shakespeare In Love!
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8/10
English thespians
jotix10023 October 2004
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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10/10
Dazzlingly Entertaining, A Tour De Force
Ralph Michael Stein22 October 2004
Before the Great Fire and the Great Plague of the mid-seventeenth century, London slowly, joyously awoke to the end of the Interregnum, that dark period of the evil regicide, Cromwell and his dull and dim son and successor. Theaters shut down during the Protectorate now reopened and the die-hard, dour Puritans either doffed their somber garb and decamped for more favorable vice-free venues or joined the fun.

Director Richard Eyre and script author Jeffrey Hatcher (who wrote the play on which "Stage Beauty" is derived) set the screen with a feast of authentic costumes and an almost palpable ambiance of a great city resurrecting a rich cultural life, at least for those of means.

But, as has been said, the play is the thing and the acting here is uniformly engrossing, indeed superb.

Based more or less on history, the film chronicles an awkward and for many painful evolution of law and theater, the two intertwined. For when Charles II was restored to the throne lost by his father (who also lost something else of even more estimable value), theaters reopened but under an old law that forbade the presence of actresses on the stage. The great female roles of Shakespeare were performed by men, some of whom were the subjects of audience and patron adulation for their skills of gender mimicry.

Ned Keynaston (Billy Crudop) is the leader of the pack, a star of the stage whose Desdemona is the height of his career. Serving as his dresser is Maria (Clair Danes), a frustrated actress who mouths the lines of Desdemona from the side of the stage as Ned wows the punters.

Maria actually gets to act behind Ned's back but in a less than first-line theater, her costume borrowed, to be generous, from the unsuspecting Ned.

What follows is a comedy and a drama as the king (Rupert Everett), at the urging of one of his mistresses, Nell Gynn (newcomer Zoe Tapper) proclaims that women may take on the roles of their sex and the cadre of female impersonators must seek new and gender authentic roles. At first amused, then devastated by a loss of roles, income and prestige, Ned slides to singing bawdy songs in drag to a somewhat low(er) class clientele in a sink run by a foulmouthed harridan. But under the protection of a genuinely odious, rotund and foul Sir Charles (Richard Griffith), Maria becomes the toast of the town for her fine acting.

Sexual attraction equally matched by a moving ambiguity permeates both the roles played by Maria and Ned and their off-stage lives. Maria is in love with Ned who is, at least, potentially bisexual while actually intimate with one of the king's favorites, the second Duke of Buckingham (Ben Chaplin). Buckingham was, in actuality, one of the most complex characters during Charles's two decade exile and then restoration to the throne. A conniver and master manipulator, here his skills are shown as being wholly adapted to surviving in a court attended by intrigue at every turn.

Eyre projects role reversal both with Ned and Maria's theater life and their increasing personal but never simple involvement. Can he make love to a woman? Does he know himself what his orientation is? There is a certain contemporaneity to the artfully acted issues raised in this mid-1600s scenario.

Eyre could not have selected a better cast. Crudop is penetrating as a man whose whole, strange persona is transformed in an instant by a monarch's command. Everett is disarmingly foppish as the Stuart monarch but in a critical scene he reveals his deep, lasting resentment over his father's and his dynasty's fate as he orders women to be allowed to perform. Edward Fox is splendid in short takes as Charles's key minister, Sir Edward Hyde (the Earl of Clarendon but he's never identified with his proper peerage title).

Zoe Tapper may well have studied the life of her character, "the Protestant Whore" (so known and loved by the London underclass to distinguish her from the despised "Catholic Whore" who alternated with Nell for the king's company and body (forget about the queen-she doesn't even make an appearance here). She's crude, raw, vulgar, sentimental, loyal and cunning - she IS Nell Gynn.

Hugh Bonneville is the randy, compulsive diarist Sir Samuel Pepys, father of the Royal Navy, here a stage door Johnny, a voyeur. Ben Chaplin as the Duke of Buckingham is just the right admixture of randiness and a healthy regard for the penalty that can be incurred by going too far over the edge of conventionality. And Tom Wilkinson as Ned's and then Maria's stage impresario combines business acumen with a soft human touch.

But special kudos go to Clair Danes - this is her best performance to date. She runs the gamut of emotions from helpless subservience to repressive laws to sprightly awakening of her worth to deep confusion about her priorities and needs. She inhabits the role of Maria with skill and grace. An Oscar-worthy display.

The score is fine, briskly and authentically complementing the story. And for the first time ever in a movie a king of England is shown cavorting in the royal rack with his mistress while six adorable King Charles Spaniels look on.

10/10
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Shakespeare in Love with brains. And acting.
malcolm-wilson7 September 2004
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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Beautiful, smart and memorable
Lupa Varg27 November 2004
This is a movie worth watching several times. It's smart, well made and very well written. Intelligent movies are not that common and this is a beautiful exception. If you loved 'Shakespeare in love' you will most likely not love this one, but if you want something more from your movie experience, this is a movie for you. I do not know why people compare the two, since they are miles apart. 'Stage Beauty' is in a whole other league and has real acting, real dialogs and real humanity, which 'Shakespeare in love' lacks. It is also nice to see the level of effort that is made to make 'Stage Beauty' so real in time and costume. The light, sound and stage is convincing to the max.

Billy Crudup makes an exceptional role as Ned Kynaston.
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Seventeenth-century Stanislavsky
livewire-619 November 2004
"All the world's a stage," wrote the Bard, "and all the men and women merely players that strut and fret their hour upon the stage."

"Stage Beauty" is set in the world of seventeenth-century Restoration theatre, but the stage serves as a microcosm for life itself, and the roles played by the actors before the public mirror the roles they play in their private lives. The question is, do they create their roles, or do their roles create them?

Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) is an actor who takes on women's roles, since real women are not permitted to do so. He has been thoroughly trained and schooled in the then highly stylized technique of portraying women -- to such an extent that any trace of masculinity seems to have been drummed out of him.

His dresser Maria (Clare Danes) yearns to be an actress herself, but is prevented from doing so by the narrow conventions of Puritan England -- until Charles II is restored to the throne and decrees that, henceforth, real women shall play women's roles on the stage. A whole new world opens up for Maria, but it looks like curtains for Ned.

What happens next is pure anachronism: Ned and Maria are able to rise above the limitations and constraints of their era. Not only do they transcend their gender or sex roles, but they overcome their classical training and, in effect, engage in Method acting, a technique still three hundred years away in the far-distant future. When he teaches Maria how to break the mold and play Othello's Desdemona in a whole new, natural way, Ned becomes a seventeenth-century Stanislavsky.

But, by George, it works. Their performance of the celebrated death scene from "Othello" sends shock waves through an audience accustomed to pantomime and exaggerated gestures -- and it electrifies us as well.

Not since Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow in "Shakespeare in Love" have an actor and actress so shimmered and shone simultaneously on stage and screen. One hopes that Billy Crudup and Clare Danes will be remembered for their luminous performances at the 2005 Academy Awards.
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Good but succumbs to modern sentimentality
pekinman3 May 2005
I was very impressed by Billy Crudup's portrayal of Ned Kynaston, the last of the great English actors who specialized in Shakespeare's female heroines. The only other film I had seen this actor in was 'Big Fish' and that was a performance that, as it turns out, has grown in stature with each subsequent viewing. One of those quiet, difficult roles that Crudup does to perfection, as it turns out. He never over-plays or attempts to steal a scene. And in Big Fish his character is never meant to steal scenes... who could from Albert Finney! But in the hospital room Crudup manages to bash the viewer with quite an emotional wallop, showing a depth that had hitherto gone unappreciated. In 'Stage Beauty' Crudup never resorts to eye-fluttering she-male antics in order to convey his understanding, indeed internalization, of the eternally feminine principals that are so foreign to most men. He avoids what might have been high-camp in the hands of a lesser actor.

It is also remarkable how beautiful Crudup IS as a woman. He's not what I'd call a "beautiful" man, though he is very appealing, and his sexuality is muted, both as a gay man in his relationship with the Duke of Buckingham, wonderfully performed by Ben Chaplin (now THERE'S a sexy man!) and his burgeoning interest in Claire Danes' Maria. Though that last relationship never rings very true, nor does the director attempt to shove it down our throats as being really feasible for the homosexual Kynsaston to suddenly desire without qualm the lovely Maria.

Danes is quite good in the early scenes as the long-suffering hand-maiden to her male "star" (Crudup). It isn't her fault if the character becomes a tad maudlin in later scenes and a bit more annoying than endearing. She is stretched to the limit in the Desdemona/ Othello scene she plays with Crudup, the latter playing the Moor with uncanny ease, he must be quite a Shakespearean on stage! But Danes is not to be faulted in what is probably a misfire in the concept of this scene, developing as it does out of the stylized acting of Crudup's Desdemona and then leaping wildly into the Method school of acting for this last performance of Desdemona's death. A bit of an anachronism that spoils the film's ultimate impact, but not too much.

There is a wonderful performance of Charles II by Rupert Everett. He seems to specialize in royalty and always holds the eye effortlessly. Everett is getting better and better as he gets older. I look forward to the day when he's a cynical old actor like Ian McKellan who can do anything he pleases brilliantly.

I always enjoy Richard Griffiths who is here Lord Charles, an obese fop with a rapier wit, delivering some juicy and subtle quips to hilarious effect.

The setting is good, if a bit stagy. There is one shot of the old London Bridge with houses and shops built on it that is quite remarkable. The atmosphere of 17th century London is captured quite nicely, which can't have been an easy thing to do. Costumes and other technical credits are beyond reproach.

But somehow this isn't a "great" film, but a very good one and worth repeated viewings.

7 out of 10.
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A Fascinating Search for What Is Male/Female On Stage
noralee28 October 2004
"Stage Beauty" is a clever and moving combination of the period feel of "Shakespeare in Love" and the themes of "A Double Life." In the latter, Ronald Colman is an actor who immerses himself into his role as Othello and, as in "Beauty," continually repeats and reinterprets the murder scene, with increasing realism.

The emphasis here is on male/female gender roles on stage from just before to just after women are allowed on stage. Playwright/screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher's choice to use "Othello" as his prism is significant on many levels.

All the characters agree that the productions of the play at this time in the 1660's already included the artifice that the Moor is portrayed in blackface, though this is a serious drama of passion and not one of the lighter comedies or romances with hidden or mistaken identity. The final presentation of the key scene does have the on-screen audience terrified that the actors' animosity has led to all pretense being abandoned.

Hatcher simplifies the gender issues by focusing on a play where the leads, "Desdemona" and "Othello," are unambiguous in their sexual poles, which makes Billy Crudup's "Ned Kynaston" tortured self-discovery to move from one role to the other particularly fascinating. The movie includes a brief, comic debate about the ramifications of "Rosalind" in "As You Like It" in a time where a male actor would be portraying a Shakespearean heroine disguised as a man, in what we now consider 'trouser roles' (like "Portia" in "Merchant of Venice" or Viola in "Twelfth Night").

Set in the period of the Stuart Restoration when kings are in and out of exile and a brash cockney mistress masquerades as the queen, though Nell Gwynn's influence is doubtless exaggerated, the mise en scene is a society where all are play-acting in wigs and make-up. Ben Chaplin's Duke of Buckingham, in a much more leonine role that his milquetoasts in "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" or "Birthday Girl," wryly demonstrates as he cynically moves from an affair with "Kynaston" to a rich marriage.

Claire Danes's contrasting naturalness is luminous as she has no doubts about her femininity, but is frustrated in getting Kynaston to perceive it, and not just as another artifice. While it is an asymptotic flirtation as his sexuality is left indeterminate, it is marvelous to watch "Kynaston" tentatively and painfully learn to explore his masculine side that was suppressed since childhood, on stage and off.

The conclusion seems a cri de coeur for audiences to accept gay actors as "Stanley Kowalski" in "A Streetcar Named Desire," to get across that no matter how naturalistic the acting, it is still pretend.

Director Richard Eyre's camera work swirls around a bit too much to animate the choice dialogue, but there are also outdoor scenes of dirt, violence and cruelty that open up the action from the play, thus showing the theater as a refuge from reality.

George Fenton's score sounded marvelously appropriate to the period.

Crudup's and Danes's British accents are unfortunately a bit too bland, but convincing.
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10/10
Quite the little masterpiece, in my opinion.
ndcmwll18 February 2006
Although I came in part way through, the sumptuous sets and photography were immediately captivating. I recognized several cast members as superb actors but was reeled in for the movie's entirety with the appearance of Claire Danes. If I were a high school drama teacher, this would be required viewing for my students because of its historical and theatrical qualities. The psychological intricacies presented in several intense scenes regarding "gender" were vividly heart-wrenching. Since I had no clue as to what I was viewing, I felt compelled to check it out on the Internet for further details. I intend to view it from the beginning ASAP. Highly recommended.
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7/10
Crudup's Beauty
marcosaguado28 April 2005
He is exquisite, Billy Crudup I mean, but not as a woman. Strangely enough he is more feminine as a man than he is as a woman. Look at him in "Almost Famous" perfect. Shaped like a flamenco dancer, rhythmic, sexual, casually overpowering. In "Jesus's Son" just by waking up at the beginning of the film, he, his character, gets you. Here he seems at odds with the feminine aspect of his character. His Desdemona is a performance. What perhaps I'm saying is that I admired the performance but I didn't feel it. I was aware of its quality but I couldn't taste it, as I have done with previous Billy Crudup creations. Another strange thing, Clare Danes. I think she's one of the most interesting actresses of her generation and here you enjoy her enormously when she's on but her character is now a blurry dot in my memory. What remains most vividly in my mind is Rupert Everett's sensational turn as King Charles. All said and done, try not to miss it.
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7/10
Screen Beauty
A.W Richmond27 April 2005
Billy Crudup is an actor I follow with feverish anticipation. I saw him for the first time on Broadway, about 10 years ago, in a Stoppard play. It was love at first sight. A sensual, magnetic, beautiful man. "Jesus Son" "Waking the Dead" and "Almost Famous" confirmed my initial impression. Here we have an actor for the ages. A unique, monumental talent. "Stage Beauty" however, gives me pause. Billy is entrusted with a bigger than life role and he comes out of it with a half cooked, self conscious, affected performance. He underlines every other line with a semi smile, a slight pressure of the mouth as if he didn't trust the power of his own delivery. It could be treated as a character trait if you've never seen Billy Crudup before but that tic belongs to the actor not to the character. I'm, of course, being a bit anal retentive. At his weakest, Billy is stronger than most but my expectations are so high that something like that would throw me out of my involvement with his character. The film as a whole is lovely and fun. The one most effective element is Rupert Everett's performance as Charles II, his best - an that is saying a lot - in many, many moons. Comparasions with "Shakespeare in Love" are unavoidable but totally misguiding. See it for what it is and you'll enjoy it thoroughly.
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10/10
A Magnificent Restoration
dragonswizardz21 June 2006
"The Restoration" theatre vividly brought to life by a first-rate "Company of Players". In an age when women were forbidden to perform on the stage Ned Kynaston was arguably the "prettiest man in London" & the toast of the London's theatrical world. But when Charles II declares women may indeed trod the theatre's (& London's) stage(s), he finds himself haunted by the persona he has become. And, in so doing, he provides a triumphant view of a turning point in his career ~~ and in the history of the theatre. A visually stunning movie with a superb cast headed by Claire Danes (Maria), Billy Crudup (Ned Kynaston) & Rupert Everett (King Charles II) that enchants as well as creates the Restoration Age in England.
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10/10
Beautiful!
kikibug22 May 2006
I loved this movie! Mistress Hughes is charming and true, Ned is perfect, I could well understand _Mariah_'s affection, and I did love his hands; Charlie is great (but then, Everett is always great), pretty witty Nell is a bundle of energy... The movie was so good, at the end my stomach was tight, my pulse was beating fast, and all I could do was... watch it again! :)

As an actress's daughter, I had been curious about when and how did the transition between men-playing-women and women-playing-women. The how is perhaps romanticized, but... I am sure it was very hard on some men who were successful at it, and a personal angst did help drive that point through. The movie was honest, and the two Othelo death scenes which framed it quite took my breath away. The stylistic beauty of the first, where the traces of Comedia del'Arte could be observed, was stage beauty of one kind, and the long and winding path to the realistic stage beauty of the second one... made sense.

The film is a strong acting one, where people who have serious connections with theater will get much more than the rest, which does distribute the real pith among a selected few. But there are also points which are more general - like s*x in pre-Victorian London (high) society, which was more relaxed than during and long after, and I thought that was represented very faithfully in the movie.

Anyway, again, I loved the movie and I will definitely see it yet again!
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8/10
Sexy, smart, romantic...a movie for actors and playwrights
bondgirl67814 May 2006
I had heard of the film through tadbloid and celebrity headlines of how Billy Crudup left his seven month pregnant girlfriend, Mary-Louise Parker, for Claire Danes. I wasn't interested in the film, but then my sister got the DVD for her birthday. I saw it for the first time over the week and I have been watching it over and over again. What a beautifully written story about acting, gender, theater, illusion, romance, and discovery of one's own identity. During the Restoration of England under the reign of King Charles II, women were finally given the freedom and right to perform on the stage whereas before the decree it was illegal and obscene for a woman to perform on stage.

Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) is the greatest actor and the most beautiful "woman" of the English stage. He played several women's part and his most famous is the role of Desdemona in William Shakespeare's Othello. He is studied, admired, loved, and envied by his dress keeper, Maria (Claire Danes). She watches from the wings and longs to act and she does so behind Kynaston's back and in low pubs before a royal official, the Duke of Buckingham (Ben Chaplin). Then the chain of events unfold as Maria is introduced to Charles II (Rupert Everett) and his mistress Nell Gwyn (Zoe Tapper) who then declares that women will be given the freedom to perform in theater.

As Maria's fame rises and women are playing more and more of the female roles, Ned Kynaston (the last of his kind of actors) is casted aside. As an actor and as man, Kynaston had learned to suppress all masculinity in order to gain the grace and beauty of a woman. He knows only how to portray women and he is lost in learning to play male roles. But then again Maria is unable to play the role of Desdemona as a real woman. Both Kynaston and Maria fall in love and into passion as they learn from each other their own sexual identities and to channel their femininity and masculinity.

I fell in love with the film's story and with the performances of Billy Crudup and Claire Danes. As Kynaston, Crudup reveals vulnerability and strength as a man who discovers himself as a man (and a very hot one at that) through the role and eyes of being a woman. As Maria, Danes is beautiful and real: those tears are real! She can cry on cue and with the heartbreak of a real woman in love and envious of the man she loves. Maria is a strong, forthcoming, and in way a modern actress ahead of her time. She is not an "Eve" from All About Eve, she is a Viola Delesop from Shakespeare In Love, but real. The love scene between Danes and Crudup is sexy, tender, and passionate showing that explicit sex and nudity is not always necessary. They look into each other's sides and truly learn from each other as man and woman.

This is a highly recommended film for those who love acting, period pieces, or just if you want to see a really good film, "Stage Beauty" is very much the film to watch.
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7/10
"Who are you now?"
Rogue-3219 February 2006
Stage Beauty is an unbelievably ambitious production, and with so many provocative themes running simultaneously it's definitely not boring. What I liked the most was the way the sexual ambiguity was portrayed - most of those scenes had a playful touch, so as not to get drearily heavy-handed, but I also felt a lot of the veering between seriousness and comedy was awkward where it should have been smooth. Rupert Everett's droll turn as the King was perfect, and Claire Danes has never been more passionate and radiant. Billy Crudup's role was the most difficult, of course, and he handled it commendably. My favorite scene is the one where the two of them are in bed, and she's asking, "who are you now?" (the man or the woman, based on the position) - a brilliant scene which depicts the ridiculousness of gender-stereotyping with wit and charm to spare.
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9/10
completely surprised
oaksong19 February 2006
I've seen Billy Crudup on stage, and he can be very good. I'd say that here he's brilliant.

I seem to have missed this when it played in New York, and I don't know how. One might quibble over some of the....uh....eccentricities, but over all this is quite amazing.

There was a recent Chinese film about a boy who plays women on stage, and his lover. It covered a lot of the growing up part of how a boy gets to play a woman on stage. This neatly skips that part and deals in a truly fascinating way with the aftermath.

Claire Danes is a revelation. She makes you completely believe in what you're seeing. Her reaction to her environment and the fact that she is also hiding who she really is give her a realistic ability to understand the man that Crudup plays.

Billy Crudup delivers a truly indelible performance as a man with the 'wrong' kind of up bringing. A pretty boy who's identified as a potential player of women's roles, his entire education is built around learning the art of being a woman. He learns the part well enough to perform the role both on and off the stage, and becomes very close to a member of the King's staff.

I'm surprised this didn't get some academy buzz, but with the gay subplot, that might be understood. Richard Griffiths is a particularly smarmy but amazingly understanding Lord of the Manor. The cast gives a great rendition of life in the 1600's. They even step in what's found in the street from time to time for some good verisimilitude.

The historical event that provides the focus for this story is England's King Charles ruling that women would replace men in all women's roles on the stages of England. Nell Gwynn clearly had some influence on this event. Given the times in which the events occurred and the nature of the participants, Hogarths depictions of the world may well have given some impetus to the depiction of events as they are portrayed here.

While parts of this are a rollicking good time, there are some dramatic moments that are quite overpowering, scary even. Portrayed as the reality of events, the personal behaviors are entirely believable. I couldn't find a sour note in the entire story.
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9/10
"So...who are you now?" "I don't know...I don't know"
elizabuff7219 February 2006
Brilliant and beautiful and breathtaking.

The flip side of Shakespeare in Love - flipped several times over, but every bit as magical, passionate and fun. What takes this a notch higher than SIL, is the full out portrayal of all sides of human sexuality with absolutely no excuses or pretense.

The best thing is that what we do *not* see at the end.

Amazing spot-on supporting performances by Rupert Everett, Ben Chapman, Tom Wilkinson, Zoe Tapper, Stockard Channing and so many others.

The frightening bizarre hair, makeup and costumes are used so wonderfully in this film to remind us of our of our frailty, vanity, but mostly of our beautiful humanity. No hiding here - from anything. No excuses!

The humor is there... the life is there...the cruelty, the spirit, the hypocrisy. All of it.

I could see this movie a hundred times and not be bored.

Enjoy!
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9/10
Stage Beauty is Beautiful Film-making
jdavisbruin30 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Despite how much I've enjoyed some movies this summer, such as The 40 Year Old Virgin and Batman Begins, the lackluster movie season has made me turn to DVDs.

A few nights ago I rented Stage Beauty starring Billy Crudup and Claire Daines and got a pleasant surprise. The film was a wonderful blend of comedy and drama. The story, set in London circa 1660, centered around Ned Kynaston (Crudup), a famous bisexual actor who plays women on the Elizabethan stage. His dresser, Maria (Daines), wishes to be an actress, despite a royal decree that only men can act. Still, Maria finds a loophole and under the stage-name Margaret Hughes she performs, impresses the mistress of the King, and inspires a law that forbids men from playing women. Kynaston is therefore out of a job and blames his downfall on his former friend, but of course he eventually falls in love with her. In short, it's a tale of sexual politics told to perfection.

I was initially skeptical about this film as I've never been a big fan of Claire Daines, and though I've always found Billy Crudup attractive, I've never thought of him as a great actor, especially one that could convincingly portray a man who in many ways identifies himself as a woman. However both shine in this film, and the chemistry between them is electrical. Their sex scene together--in which they substitute nudity with simply kissing and running their fingers over each other--was one of the most beautiful and sensual sex scenes I've ever seen. It probably helped that they fell for each other in real life over the course of this film, prompting Crudup to leave his wife, Mary Louise-Parker, while she was pregnant.

The supporting cast of this film is stellar, too. Rupert Everett is a riot as the King, and unknown Zoe Tapper makes an astonishing debut as his mistress. The excellent cast, paired with exquisite writing, made for an entirely enjoyable film.

I'm sure it must be hard to make a dramatic comedy that's as funny as it is dramatic, especially when it's a period piece as well, but Stage Beauty pulls it off with flair. Though on many occasions I felt totally emotionally invested in the characters, especially in the stirring conclusion to the film, at other times I was laughing out loud. This film is full of quotable lines and exchanges, such as when the King says, "Why shouldn't we have women on stage? After all, the French have been doing it for years," and his adviser replies, "Whenever we're about to do something truly horrible, we always say that the French have been doing it for years." Whether you are a fan of period pieces or love Billy Crudup and Claire Daines, rent this film. I sincerely hope it goes down in the books as one of the most under-rated films of 2004. This one was way more Oscar-worthy than the pile of dung otherwise known as The Aviator. If I keep telling myself "I have to buy this" as I'm watching it, you know it's gotta be good...well, that or I have a major DVD buying problem...or both.
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10/10
Humorous, Thoughtful and intelligent!
jfulmer-312 November 2005
A terrific film! How could this be overlooked but things like "The wedding crashers" become a hit!? If you enjoy humorous,thoughtful and intelligent entertainment this will quite possibly make your year. Recommend it to friends!

The acting, scene design, and dialog are all just stunning. Billy Crudup's performance is awe inspiring. The scene from Othello near the end is absolutely huge.

My wife does not like nor have any familiarity with Shakespeare and she was on the edge of her seat during that scene. A Winner all the way around.
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10/10
I'm running out of words
smoothhoney12655 October 2005
When the British make a costume drama it is simply a feast for the senses: Luminous colours in the most beautiful shades of red, gold and brown, costumes full of little details and precious jewelry and a great music score that takes you straight to Shakespearian and Bronte England. Now, a new precious jewel of the British cinema comes to film theatres and from my first impression it could be the best film of this year (well, at least until the new Harry Potter comes out).

The topic is more or less familiar from "Shakespeare in love": It is the drama of this time when women wanted to act on stage but only men were allowed to do so. While "Shakespeare in love" showed this drama from a female point of view, "Stage Beauty" deals with a man whose life falls to bits and peaces when a woman plays a woman and achieves a change of law which now allows women to act on stage.

Ned Kinaston (Billy Crudup) is a stage beauty, means: A male actor who is skilled in and specialized on strictly performing female roles. He had done so for years, can do it like no other and play nothing else. He is a star and the best stage beauty in London. Like every star, Ned has someone who cares for him, knows all his wishes on and behind the stage and holds his feet on earth: It is Maria (Claire Danes), the girl who cares for his wigs, his make-up and his costumes. Maria does not only love Ned, she lives for the theatre and dreams to be on stage herself. One night she "borrows" Ned's costumes and wig and makes her dream illegally come true on a little stage. She is a full success and so sets the wheels in motion: A duke has seen her performance, a duke who has connections to the king and soon the law is changed: Women are allowed to act on stage now. Kinaston sees the end of his career and drowns in despair. But it is Maria again who might save him.

A fascinating tale about men in dresses, women in tights and the theatre in Shakespearean England. But "Stage Beauty" is so much more. It is about two people whose heart belongs to the theatre and who are so deep into it that reality and fiction is sometimes a dangerous mix. It is about a man and a woman who find their way in a time where this way seems not to exist. It is dramatic, sometimes wonderfully romantic and fragile, very entertaining and simply beautiful.

Hands down for Billy Crudup's performance: This beautiful man is not bad as a woman, but basically the film celebrates his male beauty. When he is on stage he's incredible and when he's off stage he's simply hot but also convincing when facing the greatest crisis of his life (in his role I mean). But actually the person carrying the film is a fantastic Claire Danes. Once again she is playing Shakespeare, this time not Julia but Desdemona. She is strong, she is beautiful, she is courageous but also sympathetic. The supporting cast is what every director and viewer can only dream of: It includes Tom Wilkinson, Rupert Everett, Hugh Bonneville and Ben Chaplin.

If you haven't seen this film yet, do so, it's a great experiences. It enchants, it gives your dreams wings, hope and strength. And is great entertainment, too.
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This film didn't receive its due worth
MadKittenz16 September 2004
This film came and went in the cinema I go to. I went to see it on the last day it was on (which really wasn't very long at all) and I absolutely loved it. I don't think this film got the praise that it deserved. Billy Crudup has the perfect face for a Stage Beauty - he is effeminate in costume, yet a stunning man without the visage he dons for his Desdemona. Claire Danes pulls off her part wonderfully, especially the scene after she 'rescues' Crudup from the tavern, and the final rehearsal scene for Othello. Rupert Everett plays a wonderfully divine King Charles (with his little spaniels) and Zoe Tapper plays the ex-orange seller to perfection. The comedy and more emotional scenes in the play combine brilliantly. Bravo to all involved in this truly great film. If you didn't get the chance to see it in the cinema, I certainly recommend you to go out and rent it!
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9/10
Art wins over artifice, Crudup and Danes triumph
Steve Reed (SteveReed007)16 October 2004
"Stage Beauty" succeeds beautifully in what any good period piece does, whether set 300 years ago or 300 years from now. It takes us into that setting, finds evocative characters, and has them bring up plot matters that resonate. With us, that is ... not necessarily with those actually living in the time depicted.

I say this because the central element of the story has been described as unbelievable or unconvincing by some critics. Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup), at the end of his run in playing female parts, is pulled from personal and professional despair through the insight and love of Maria (Claire Danes), his dresser and successor -- and they create a triumph out of this by bringing some real emotion to the Restoration stage.

This has been decried as bringing Method acting to the 17th Century. It's nothing of the kind. Innovation is made during a fertile, provocative period of history. It did take 250 years to get away from excess artifice and gesture on stage. Yet "Stage Beauty" makes you believe that these characters could have accomplished it in the 1660s.

If you can live with that, showing a success on stage that we can believe, even if it couldn't "actually have happened" ... then you'll enjoy this story. I was riveted by the way Ned and Maria turn their mutual fortunes around. So was Rupert Everett's wryly spoken Charles II, and so, perhaps, will you.

The story centers on Ned's withering and growth in the face of adversity, and Crudup shows a huge range of emotions in carrying out this character's experiences. Complacency, haughtiness, sardonic amusement, appalled shock, tenderness -- but most of all, a crushing verdict on his own abilities, delivered before Charles and his mistress in a setting that only adds to his humiliation. I was taken entirely out of that moment in how I felt for him, almost an out-of-body experience.

Maria is the mainspring to Ned's watch face, and Danes shows her own range and depth of feeling. She takes the winds of celebrity, itself something new for that time, and runs with them. Though she's not past being bewildered by them, especially when her portrait is being painted.

Her suffering in the wings of several theaters -- down to Ned being abased before drunks -- shows many depths of love, for acting as such, for brilliance of technique, for Ned himself.

She almost never talks directly of love. (Hugh Bonneville's perceptive Samuel Pepys helps bring it out at one crucial turning point.) She shows her love to Ned, to all levels of him, without once actually saying so.

The two are left seemingly adrift at the end, with her final question and his response. Yet their regard for each other transcends everything that is thrown at them -- from his raging self-doubt, to the royal court's machinations and violence, to her being obsessed with acting technique at the expense of creating passion and fire.

This is a story of words transcending gestures and artifice. The words win out, whether in backstage maneuvering, unexpected honesty (even from the King's mistress!), or gauging what can be done with a character. It's a brave new world of being direct, getting past evasions and imitations of emotions.

Danes and Crudup inhabit their characters. They're simply English, no question -- the accents are perfect. The Restoration physical settings are superb -- dark enough for post-exile, pre-Fire London, entirely believable for courts, stages, and back-stages. The score is evocative, with twangs of Scots influence.

Every element immerses us in this world, even with the acting paradigm shift noted above. One can believe in these characters and their difficulties, and it ultimately comes to matter little that this is the 1660s. It's a human triumph which is timeless.

Not every question of life is answered, for Ned and Maria, but you know that they're embarking toward a New World of finding out about themselves -- more metaphorical than the journey undertaken at the end of "Shakespeare in Love," but far more believable.

Danes and Crudup deserve Oscar nominations, and I doubt they'll be denied. See for yourself, and be sure you do so in widescreen.
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10/10
Stunning!!!
betut-124 October 2004
"Stage Beauty" was visually stunning, lush AND fun for an adult. As a viewer I loved this film. I evidently do not have the theater knowledge of some of the other reviewers but as a film goer with not a few years of experience going to the movies, this was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had. Billy Crudup has turned in another textured, finely drawn performance, Rupert Everett (as usual) was marvelous and Claire Danes can finally leave behind the moniker of "from 'My So Called Life' ". Some of the supporting characters (with the notable exceptions of the terrific Tom Wilkinson and Ben Chaplin) were kind of thin but that is a minor complaint. I also have some friends who quibble with the depiction of Crudup's sexuality towards the end of the film (why can't a gay man BE gay). However, I adored this film.
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