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Review on `Shakespeare in Love' - 1998
11 February 2002
Summer 1953: William Shakespeare, well-known playwright, fails the words. In order to earn some money, Shakespeare promises the two competing theatre-owners of London his new script named `Romeo and Ethel, the pirate's daughter'. But, as I already mentioned it, he suffers from the so-called writer's block. This complicated situation makes him visit a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist's treatment turns out to be a waste of time and money.

As his rival Marlowe gives him some tips for his new script, William feels humiliated. The playwright's inspiration returns, when Lady Viola, beautiful daughter of a prosperous gentleman, takes part in a casting for `Romeo and Ethel, the pirate's daughter'. Dressed like a man, because women were not allowed to act on stage by order of Queen Elizabeth I, Lady Viola impresses Shakespeare so much, that he decides to follow her, as she escapes the theatre and flees from him. Later on, he invites himself to her father's dance in order to find the one, whose voice has turned his head. In the course of time, they come closer to each other and fall in love. Being in love, William dedicates several sonnets to her and gets back his gift to write.

The humorous love story of Shakespeare and Viola changes into a tragedy, just as his script of `Romeo and Ethel, the pirate's daughter', renamed `Romeo and Julia', does. Viola's Father marries her to Lord Wessex, a nobleman who plans to buy land in Virginia to cultivate tobacco. Shakespeare, on the other hand, is married to Anne Hathaway.

As a result, the constellation turns the former love story into a tragedy, between William and Viola as well as between Romeo and Julia. Lady Viola has to leave with Lord Wessex.

The dialogues are easy to understand; still they contain the poetic language of the past. Joseph Fiennes, playing Shakespeare, does not personify a wise man, philosophizing all day in some backroom, not having any social contacts but a genius, whose life is most chaotic, exciting and driven by his passions. Gwyneth Paltrow, playing Lady Viola, does not correspond with prejudices people have towards the aristocracy. She is not stuck-up and spoilt. Lady Viola's most important desire for her future is to become an actress, a wish that was neither common nor allowed during the 16th century, especially as a member of the British upper class. She lets herself being carried away into adventures without having the feeling of leaving the throne.

Considering the throne, Queen Elizabeth I was its holder during Shakespeare's lifetime. Her strong influence on the theatre and in this respect the orders she enacted like the one which forbid women acting, are fantastically realized in `Shakespeare in Love'. Judi Dench expresses the Queen's power in an impressive way, especially by her mimic and movement. Slow but vigorous and sovereign, the Queen behaves and wherever she enters the room, people sag at their knees. For her brilliant acting, Judi Dench achieved the Oscar in the category `Best actress in a supporting role'.

The scenery of the film appears very authentic. Reading books about life in Britain during the 16th century, the directors and producers reproduced a quarter of London quite detailed. The streets are covered with dirt and citizens throw excrements out of their windows. The interior decorations are generally kept rather simple, wooden and robust. Torches light up the dark alleys of old London. `Shakespeare in Love' indicates the comeback of Shakespeare in our society. The opinion about his works as being outdated and incomprehensible has gone. The film, awarded with seven Oscars, has made a story of the 16th century become one of the present. Millions of people have seen the film and made it one of the most successful movies of the year 1998. The idea of making a movie about one of the most important playwrights in history is unprecedented and has revived a yellowed legend. Shakespeare is comprehensible again, for people who read his works just as for those who don't. The love story of the protagonists of `Shakespeare in Love', bound up with the love story of `Romeo and Julia' and its creation, arouse the viewer's interest even more. I most liked the last part of the film, the change between Viola and William, loving each other in a physical way on the one hand, and verbal on stage as Romeo and Julia on the other hand. The energy of love, the beauty of the poetic words are only disturbed by the ending, which is not what people would call a `happy' one. In spite of the romance and final tragedy, the acting is neither kitschy nor very exaggerated.
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