Shakespeare in Love (R)
AFI Catalog; IMDb; Miramax; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; FandangoNOW; Google Play; iTunes; Vudu
The very first thing I want to mention is that this film inspired a sort of parody short film (or at least, this film's title probably inspired the title of a completely unrelated short film) called George Lucas in Love.
Next I should mention that, as is so often the case, there are a number of categories in which I could have included this review, such as "comedy" (or rather "dramedy") or "period pieces." I was planning on putting it in "period," but romantic fool that I am, I changed my mind. (Sigh, would that I could find true love, myself. Ah, me.)
So, it's set in London, in 1593. There are lots of little obvious things that you'd find in movies like this, like a different way of dressing and talking than we do today. And there are lots of smaller touches that I like, such as cleaning your teeth with a twig or whatever. Um... but there are also fun bits that seem to foreshadow more contemporary films, such as the scene where Shakespeare says "Follow that boat!" LOL. Awesome. And of course there are jokes that are specific to what we know about William Shakespeare. The main thing is seeing things either in the background or things directly affecting Will, which will ultimately play into his work. (This is basically a case of "write what you know," which is the whole premise of the aforementioned "George Lucas in Love.") And then, there are plenty of other things that are just plain funny without being gimmicky.
Anyway, there are two theatres in London which are in competition, the Curtain (owned by Richard Burbage) and the Rose (owned by Philip Henslowe). There's also a rivalry between William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and another playwright, Christopher "Kit" Marlowe (Rupert Everett). Marlowe writes for the Curtain, which is far more successful than the Rose, apparently. And Henslowe is desperate for Will to write him a new play (the one Will is planning is a comedy called "Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter"), because there are people he (Henslowe) owes money to, and one of those people, Hugh Fennyman, has a very loan sharky way of dealing with people who don't pay their debts. So, Henslowe makes Fennyman a partner, counting on proceeds from the play to cover his debt. Unfortunately, Will has writer's block.
Meanwhile, there is a woman named Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is a great fan of Shakespeare's. She also wants to be an actor, but the law doesn't allow women to be actors (female parts in plays, of course, are played by boys). So she disguises herself as a boy, assuming the name Thomas Kent, and auditions at the Rose. And ends up playing Romeo. (Ah, the irony of a woman playing a boy opposite a boy who's playing a girl.) Meanwhile, Will becomes infatuated with Viola (not knowing she's Thomas Kent, at first), and she with him. Alas, her father has arranged for Viola to marry someone named Lord Wessex (Colin Firth), with whom she is to move to Virginia. But that's a few weeks off; before long, Will learns the truth about Viola, and starts an affair with her. Of course, all this inspires Will to overcome his writer's block and write the play (which eventually becomes "Romeo and Juliet"). Oh, also, Ben Affleck plays an actor named Ned, who plays Mercutio in the play (of which he was led to believe he'd be the star).
I leave out numerous details of the plot, but no doubt you can see that the film is a comedy of errors. But of course, also a tragedy, of sorts. (Some of the tragedy comes from what first was comedy. Or so it seems; eventually historical fact plays a part, in one aspect of the plot, even if most of the plot is somewhat less than historically accurate. But I won't spoil any of that.) Um... both comedy and drama come from various places. There is the fact that Fennyman gets quite wrapped up in the play, even getting a part in it. There is the fact that Will and Viola's romance is as star-crossed as that of Romeo and Juliet themselves (and hence the play which was once meant to be a comedy becomes a tragedy). And the fact that it is eventually discovered by the authorities that there is a woman among the performers at the Rose, which leads to the theatre being closed. But of course, the play must go on... and so it does. Um, anyway, I want to avoid giving away too much. Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench) has an important role in things. And... yes, I don't quite know what else to say. I suppose I've said all I can about the plot, without giving away the ending. Ah... such sweet sorrow!
Anyway. I must say, I've always had a bit of a problem with "Romeo and Juliet." It's supposed to be like the greatest love story ever written, and in this movie that actually plays into a bet, about whether a play can show the true nature of love. Personally, I've never believed that that play manages to do that (though I do think it's a great play). This movie, with its parallel of the play, does a bit better, I think, though I still have trouble believing what Will and Viola feel for each other is what I would consider true love. It comes closer than Romeo and Juliet did, but still. Um... never mind, though. For the purposes of a good story, I can set aside such matters. And this was definitely a good story. I liked many of the characters, I loved the humor, I found the drama moving, and... the parallel worked beautifully. There was much about the film that was kind of redonkulous, but it really was pretty great. And I must say, it's the kind of movie that makes me wish I was a writer.