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Shakespeare in Love (1998) – Movie Review

Shakespeare in Love poster art

Written by: Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard
Directed by: John Madden
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Affleck

My Advice: Don’t miss it.

I’ll never complain about the plight of a modern writer again. Well, at least not this week. At least the SDI will never get closed because of the plague. Never expected the terms “plague” and “romantic comedy” to ever get together? Well, surprise. This is the best comedy of 1998, an absolute cinematic gem.

Bill Shakespeare (Fiennes) is in the throes of writer’s block at the start of his career, completely at a loss. This is bad news for the owner of the Rose Theatre, Henslowe (Rush), who owes money to Fennyman (Wilkinson), and will probably get killed or worse if he doesn’t pay. There’s only one thing to do–write a play and quickly, and call it “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter.” With a deadline approaching, they need a Romeo, and who should arrive but Thomas Kent, a virtual unknown who’s perfect for the part.

[ad#longpost]And thus begins a comedy that Shakespeare would truly be proud to have his name in lights above. Romeo is Thomas Kent who is actually Viola de Lesseps (Paltrow), you see, who is in love with Shakespeare and has Kent deliver her messages to him, despite the fact she must marry Lord Wessex (Colin Firth), who, like many English scholars, thinks Shakespeare is really Christopher Marlowe (Rupert Everett). Confused? That’s only the beginning.

First, credit Norman and Stoppard for writing a Shakespearian comedy about Shakespeare. Don’t expect Farrelly Brother stunts, but expect a film that’s actually funny without having a laugh every five seconds. It’s also chocked full of literary references, with plenty of Shakespeare in-jokes for thespians everywhere, not surprising since Stoppard is the genius who gave us Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The gender-bending throughout is so wonderfully inspired it hurts me to consider it. And into this work the two screenwriters created, we throw a superb cast. Paltrow works both Viola and Thomas, playing the best Romeo and Juliet (characters, not a title) I’ve seen in a while. Fiennes is absolutely riveting as a poet obsessed with finding a muse (two for two for him, after another great job in Elizabeth) . Geoffrey Rush is officially 1998’s MVP, for three outstanding roles (Les Miserables and Elizabeth along with this). Tom Wilkinson plays the creditor with the heart of a thespian to perfection. Affleck is even in fine period form as the egotistical Ned. Judi Dench is a playing a much better written monarch here as Queen Elizabeth than she did in Mrs. Brown as Queen Victoria.

What it boils down to is a wonderful Shakespearian love story that bends history a bit, but hey, who cares? It’s a great time and a must for English classes everywhere. Don’t miss this film.

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