DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (director: John Madden; screenwriters: Marc Norman/Tom Stoppard; cinematographer: Richard Greatrex; editor: David Gamble; cast: Gwyneth Paltrow (Viola de Lesseps), Joseph Fiennes (Will Shakespeare), Geoffrey Rush (Philip Henslowe), Colin Firth (Lord Wessex), Ben Affleck (Ned Alleyn), Judi Dench (Queen Elizabeth), Rupert Everett (Christopher Marlowe), Simon Callow (Tilney, Master of the Revels), Jim Carter (Ralph Bashford), Martin Clunes (Richard Burbage), Antony Sher (Dr. Moth), Imelda Staunton (Nurse), Tom Wilkinson (Hugh Fennyman), Mark Williams (Wabash); Runtime: 123; Miramax/Universal; 1998)

 
"Full of life."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This film doesn't claim to capture the accuracy of its Shakespeare production, it even relishes in the inaccuracies it presents. There were no Virginia tobacco plantations during that time frame, because there was no Virginia. The film runs with the frolicking nature of the performers and the backbiting that goes on backstage, as it might have been in a 1593 production of a Shakespearean play. The theme is picked up from the literati speculations that a mysterious woman became the living muse who inspired Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Here she is admirably played by American actress Gwyneth Paltrow, whose impeccable English and regal stature makes her a most endearing Viola for Shakespeare (Fiennes) to fall madly in love with.

I had no problem adapting myself to the cleverness of Tom Stoppard's screenplay, though I am usually turned off by films that think they can get by on just one note. But this film was witty and except for a penchant to become at times a cliché formula film, borrowed from thousands of other films; you know, the old underdog against the world story, with the underdog winning the big event by the end of the film. In this case, poor Will Shakespeare against the Establishment. That part of the film took away from the fresh and innovative dash the film seemed to have on its own terms.

But, I was, nevertheless, impressed by the carefree spirit of this romantic comedy. It seemed to encapsulate a feeling for those times when a great poet had to be popular in order to be recognized as great. In school we are usually forced into believing Shakespeare is only for the high brows, not realizing that Shakespeare's plays were popular and that they were written and spoken so that the common man could understand them. That Shakespeare was a great bard, there is no argument. But that he was at times too worldly, is fair criticism. This film makes it very clear that he was too worldly, as a fictionalized version of Shakespeare or not.

Shakespeare's rivalry with Christopher Marlowe (Rupert) as to who is the better playwright of the time was amusingly done, showing the vanity and grace of both rivals. I was not taken as much with Fiennes' fiery performance, as acceptable as it is, as much as I was with the rest of the cast; and, especially, Paltrow's very appealing performance. Fiennes' Shakespeare seemed a little too flighty for my taste. I just don't think Will was like that and despite this being a fictionalized account of Will, it still bothered me to see him look so lost at times. The only performer who seemed to be in the wrong film, was Ben Affleck (Ned Alleyn). You should talk Shakespearean English, if you are in a Shakespearean production.

Henslowe (Rush) seemed to have some of the best lines, playing the shifty producer, willing to try anything to stay in show business. When asked who is that addressing the actors by the play's financier, Hugh Fennyman (Wilkinson), who will soon comically become stage-struck --  he says, "That's no one important, that's the author." Judi Dench (Queen Elizabeth) played the queen with authority, mopping up the screen when she was on with her commanding presence and sharp-tongue going at full blast.

I found it all enjoyable, full of life. Its tongue-in-cheek humor sustained its colorful story within a story. 

Will, on the advice of a therapist, is told to seek some romance to regain his ability after experiencing writer's block. Will follows that advice, but his play is faced with the political and financial problems that seem to always plague theater people. And with his love for Viola running into snags, further complicated by her high and his low birth. What adds to the complications is that she is promised by her father to the cold-hearted Lord Wessex (Firth), who is a nasty character. This adds additional spice to the fictionalized story.

REVIEWED ON 2/14/99                   GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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