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Shakespeare in Love


									       Shakespeare in Love
       Reviewed By JANET MASLIN
        Shakespeare meets Sherlock, and makes for pure enchantment in the inspired conjecture behind
"Shakespeare in Love." This film's exhilarating cleverness springs from its speculation about where the
playwright might have found the beginnings of "Romeo and Juliet," but it is not constrained by worries
about literary or historical accuracy. (So what
if characters talk about Virginia tobacco          conjecture        guess, assumption
plantations before there was a Virginia ?)         constrained       limited, under control
Galvanized by the near-total absence of                              made very serious and sober very
biographical data, it soars freely into the realm  Galvanized        quickly
of invention, wittily weaving Shakespearean                          making you feel as if you were a little bit
language and emotion into an intoxicatingly
glamorous romance. No less marvelous are its       intoxicatingly drunk
imaginings of an Elizabethan theater fraught       jubilant          joyful
with the same backbiting and conniving we                            often angry, often excited, always loud,
enjoy today.                                       tempestuously seldom calm
                                                                        very slow to understand, someone who
         Tom Stoppard's mark on the jubilant
                                                       obtuse           says "Oh, I get it!" 2 hours too late
screenplay, which originated as the brainstorm
                                                       plausibility     a kind of believability, the sense that
of Marc Norman, harks back to the behind-the-
                                                                        these things could happen in the real
scenes delights of his "Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern Are Dead." This is a world in
                                                       smitten          bitten by the love bug, swept up in
which a therapist times his patient with an
hourglass and a souvenir mug is inscribed "A
Present From Stratford-Upon-Avon." Says the            rollicking       so funny you laugh out loud all the time
dashing young Shakespeare, played                      muse             artistic imagination
tempestuously well by Joseph Fiennes, about                             important story element that changes
the more successful Christopher Marlowe                pivotal          everything
(Rupert Everett): "Lovely waistcoat. Shame             Holmesian        worthy of Sherlock Holmes
about the poetry." And there is the inevitable
                                                       gambits          gaming strategies
moment when someone asks who Shakespeare
is, only to be told by a comically obtuse producer (Geoffrey Rush): "Nobody -- that's the author."
         Ingenious as the film's many inventions happen to be (from boatmen who behave like cabbies to its
equivalent of Shakespearean outtakes -- "One Gentleman of Verona" in the writing process), it could never
have had so much energy without the right real-life Juliet to dazzle Will. Gwyneth Paltrow, in her first great,
fully realized starring performance, makes a heroine so breathtaking that she seems utterly plausible as the
playwright's guiding light. In a film steamy enough to start a sonnet craze, her Viola de Lesseps really does
seem to warrant the most timeless love poems, and to speak Shakespeare's own elegant language with
astonishing ease. "Shakespeare in Love" itself seems as smitten with her as the poet is, and as alight with the
same love of language and beauty.
         As directed by John Madden in much more rollicking, passionate style than his "Mrs. Brown,"
"Shakespeare in Love" imagines Viola as the perfect muse: a literate, headstrong beauty who adores the
theater and can use words like "anon" as readily as Shakespeare writes them. She comes into his life at a
pivotal moment in his career, about which the film speculates with literary scholarship and Holmesian
audacity. What if, before making the leap from his early works to the profound emotions of "Romeo and
Juliet," he had suffered both writer's block and a crisis in sexual confidence? ("It's as if my quill has broken,"
he tells his therapist.) What if such impotence could be cured only by a madly romantic liaison with a Juliet
prototype, an unattainable woman with a habit of speaking from her balcony?
         Enter Viola, who is so eager to work in the theater that she disguises herself as a boy, since women
are forbidden to act. (Part of the film's great fun is its way of working such Shakespearean gambits into its
own plot.) On her way to winning the role of Romeo, Viola finds herself suddenly enmeshed with the
handsome playwright himself, and the film gives way to a heady brew of literature and ardor. In one
transporting montage, the lovers embrace
passionately while rehearsing dialogue that        enmeshed       tangled
spills over into stage scenes, and the bond        montage        a sequence of images
between tempestuous love and artistic creation     boudoir        bedroom
is illustrated beautifully. The film is as bold in
its romantic interludes as it is in historical     perfect Wrong the complete opposite of "Mr. Right"
second-guessing, leaving Ms. Paltrow and           allure         appeal
Fiennes enmeshed in frequent half-nude,            gaiety         parties, festiveness
hotblooded clinches in her boudoir.

        Far richer and more deft than the other Elizabethan film in town ("Elizabeth"), this boasts a splendid,
hearty cast of supporting players. (The actors in both films, like Fiennes, do notably better work here.) Colin
Firth plays Viola's fiance as a perfect Wrong. Rush's opportunistic producer is very funny, as is Ben
Affleck's version of a big-egoed actor, Elizabethan style. (Cast as Mercutio, he is also hoodwinked by Will
into thinking that "Mercutio" is the play's name.) Also most amusing is Tom Wilkinson as a financier who
grows stage-struck, Jim Carter as the actor who looks silliest in a dress, Simon Callow as the Queen's censor
and Imelda Staunton as Viola's nurse. Judi Dench's shrewd, daunting Elizabeth is one of the film's utmost
        So are its costumes. The designer Sandy Powell has previous credits including "Orlando" and "The
Wings of the Dove," and she deserves to be remembered for her wonderfully inventive work this year. She
contributes extravagantly to this film's visual allure and did the same for "Velvet Goldmine." Gear-switching
that extreme is no mean feat.
        Rating: "Shakespeare in Love" is rated R (Under 17 must be accompanied by parent or adult
guardian). It includes nudity, bawdy humor and torrid sexual situations.
        Directed by John Madden; written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard; director of photography,
Richard Greatrex; edited by David Gamble; music by Stephen Warbeck; costumes by Sandy Powell;
production designer, Martin Childs; produced by David Parritt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Edward
Zwick and Norman; released by Miramax Films. Running time: 113 minutes. This film is rated R.
        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) and Mark Williams (Wabash).

       Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Star Crossed Lovers
        In The Genius of Shakespeare Jonathan Bate says that, contrary to the general impression, "We know
a great deal more about Shakespeare's life than we do about the lives of his fellow-dramatists and fellow-
actors." We know it from official documents, says Bate. "But ... we do not learn very much from them about
his character as it affects what we are interested in: his plays." Luckily for the gaiety of nations, this point
hasn't hindered Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, co-authors of Shakespeare in Love (Miramax).
        Stoppard said recently on TV that Norman , an American who had written such items as Cutthroat
Island and Waterworld, did the first draft of this screenplay; then he was called in. Who wrote this or that
scene in the final version is of course indecipherable to us, but the result is clearly the work of people who
know a good deal about the Elizabethan era and theater, so much so that they can play games with the
material. This picture plays some diverting ones. With most historical films the informed viewer scrutinizes
in order to cluck at errors. (There are books full of such cluckings.) With Shakespeare in Love, the more one
knows, the more one can enjoy the liberties taken.
         John Madden, the director, aided by Martin Childs, the production designer, and Sandy Powell, who
did the costumes, crams the London of 1593 with the hubbub and bustle and squalor and panoply that history
justifies, and it's all centered on a Bankside theater, the Rose, owned by the hard-pressed Philip Henslowe.
                                                                  This is factual: then comes the fantasy. Young
panoply             a wide range of choices, a complete set       Shakespeare, actor and playwright attached to
                    during the reign of King James I (about       the Rose, is trying to write a play for his
Jacobean            1602 -1610) in England                        company, and so far he has little but the title:
hobble              put a rope around                             Romeo and Ethel, The Pirate's Daughter. No
                    dresses in drag                               Elizabethan or Jacobean play's title has that
transvests                                                        sort of formulation; thus, all that remains is to
creditors           moneylenders                                  find out how we get to Romeo and Juliet.
dea ex              "goddess from the machine" outside                     To begin with, Shakespeare gets advice
machina             intervention in a story's plot                from his coeval and rival, Christopher Marlowe
hurly-burly         busy activity                                 (a brief, incisive appearance by Rupert
                                                                  Everett). But the true inspiration for the plot of
his play, even for scene structure, comes from the happenstance that Shakespeare falls in love--with the
daughter of a wealthy family. The fact that he has a wife and children back in Stratford doesn't hobble his
passion, and the young lady, who hasn't yet learned about his family, responds. Her name is Viola, another
Shakespearean promise. (Her last name is de Lesseps. Is it some sort of private joke that the authors chose
the family name of the man who, 300 years later, built the Suez Canal and attempted one in Panama ?)

        Materials for the play, as Shakespeare keeps trying to meet his deadline, come from his experiences
with Viola: her father's objection, her aristocratic fiance, duels, a balcony scene complete with nurse, and
more. I haven't seen such close correspondence between experience and art since a play about Wagner, in the
1930s, in which he is struggling to compose Tristan, embraces a new mistress one evening, cries "I have it!"
then rushes to his piano and whams out the Liebestod. I was too young then to be anything but outraged; in
Shakespeare, I thought it was an entertaining parody of the creative process, all the more entertaining
because of its heat.
        The screenplay also uses, with a swirling hand, a familiar Shakespearean device, the woman
disguised as a man. Viola, mad for the poet, uninterested in the fiance who has been arranged for her,
transvests to become an actor in Shakespeare's theater (women of course being prohibited on the stage). This
leads to a device that asks for our generosity. When we first see Viola, she has flowing blonde hair. When
she appears in the theater, she has close-cropped brown hair, and we think that she has had herself shorn and
dyed. But then we see her back home with the honey locks again. This back-and-forth hair-changing goes
puzzlingly on. Oh, well, a fig for explanations. It's so incredible that, like Shakespeare's writing of his play
(which is eventually called by its familiar name), we shrug because what's happening generally is so
        Other plot strands counterpoint the central story--Henslowe's woes with his creditors, the harrying of
the theater by the Master of the Revels, the news of Marlowe's death and its effect, the presence of a 12-year-
old gamin named John Webster who hangs around the theater teasing people with live mice (a hint of the
man who would write The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi). Queen Elizabeth herself is the dea ex
machina, solving all problems at the end insofar as they can be solved. Her last line is a request to Master
Shakespeare for a comedy, perhaps a play for Twelfth Night. He sets right to work; he already knows the
name of the heroine.
        John Madden's last film was Mrs. Brown, in which he deployed the relationship of Queen Victoria
and John Brown with stateliness and wit. Here he has seemingly swilled some of Falstaff's sack and has had
robustious, fiery fun. Judi Dench, who was his Victoria , is Elizabeth here, and no one else could be tolerated
in the part. Madden's most impressive achievement, amidst all the hurly-burly, is an intimate, almost internal
one. He gets a full, feeling performance from Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola. Up to now I've never seen Paltrow
do anything but present the shape and exterior of roles, from Jane Austen's Emma to A Perfect Murder. With
Madden's help, she puts a full-bodied, aching young woman inside her costumes, not only justifying
Shakespeare's hunger for Viola but promising much for Paltrow.
        Shakespeare is Joseph Fiennes, younger brother of Ralph. Joseph, more slender and dark and willowy
than his brother, has had some small parts in films and some large ones in the London theater, including the
Royal Shakespeare Company. Now he is (gulp) the bard himself. This is hardly the first time that
Shakespeare has been a character in a dramatic work. (Even Bernard Shaw used him--in a one-act play, The
Dark Lady of the Sonnets, where he implores Elizabeth to found a national theater.) Still, it can't be a role an
actor steps into blithely. His best advantage is that, as Bate tells us, little is really known about the man's
character. Ben Jonson said he was of "an open and free nature," then added that he had "gentle expressions,
wherein he flowed with that facility that sometimes it was necessary that he should be stopped.... His wit was
in his own power; would the rule of it had been, too." But this semi-generous description, one of the few
accounts that survive, isn't of much relevance to an actor who wants to play a Shakespeare who is a model
for his own Romeo.
        Fiennes carries the day. He is lithe, strong, hot, with an attractive voice. The part isn't widely varied,
so his performance isn't, either; but he moves through this film with the surreal effect of a flashing rapier.
His Shakespeare puts the seal on the pact between us and the film. "Very well, this is not fact," we concede.
"Then let it be gratifying fiction." And it is.

     Star-cross'd lovers
     Star-cross'd lovers: Ben  willowy                                 tall and slim
Affleck upstages Gwyneth       bard                                    poet, "Bard of Avon"=Shakespeare
Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes in surreal                                   like a fantasy or dream
                               eponymous                               source of a mane
the clever but cliché d
'Shakespeare in Love'.
By Laura Miller - - - - - - - - - -
        December 11, 1998 | Early in John Madden's good-natured romantic comedy "Shakespeare in Love,"
the eponymous Elizabethan bard (Joseph Fiennes), tormented by writer's block, sets aside a ceramic coffee
mug when local theater manager Philip Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush) drops by to ask how his new play is
coming along. The mug has "A Present from Stratford on Avon " printed on it. That groaner is probably the
worst of the dumb, goofy schtick littered throughout this film, although there's a moment, when the
characters pile into a tavern and you can overhear someone on the soundtrack reciting a list of specials
("roast pig with a juniper berry sauce on a bed of ... "), that comes pretty close. The movie has a smattering
of bookishly clever bits as well, most of which are probably the handiwork of Tom Stoppard, who did a
rewrite on Marc Norman's original script. The nasty, squinty little boy who likes to feed live mice to stray
cats and describes his idea of great theater as "plenty of blood" turns out to be John Webster, who will
become the author of the Jacobean gorefest "The Duchess of Malfi." A preacher denouncing the theater in
London 's streets subliminally supplies some of the best lines in the play Shakespeare is writing throughout
the film, "Romeo and Juliet." Mostly, though, "Shakespeare in Love" is a corny, old-fashioned backstage
farce, a lot like the kind of movie that would star Joan Blondell and John Barrymore in the 1930s.
        Unable to finish his new comedy, "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter," the up-and-coming
young playwright wallows in a picturesque funk (and puffy shirt), yearning for a new muse. Meanwhile,
Henslowe appeases a brutal loan shark by cutting him in on the new production, so if Will doesn't produce,
his boss could wind up minus an ear or two. Furthermore, all of Henslowe's best actors are out on the road
trying to rustle up funds. Then there's the rival theater owned by the legendary actor Richard Burbage, who
has the town's finest playwright, Christopher Marlowe, on contract, but wouldn't mind stealing Will away as
        Will's muse arrives in the person of Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), an (excessively) fictional
maiden of modest name and extravagant fortune who thrills to the theater and decides to disguise herself as a
boy in order to audition for a part in Shakespeare's new play. Her parents intend to marry her off to one Lord
Wessex (Colin Firth, reprising the uptight sourpuss role that made him a heartthrob in the BBC's most recent
version of "Pride and Prejudice"), who plans to take his bride to Virginia . Will spots Viola at a dance, is
smitten, eventually figures out that she's the "boy" actor cast as Romeo, wins her heart and, inspired by true
love, writes his first great play.                                    white-haired
        Fiennes -- a lanky, doe-eyed dreamboat
-- seems a perfect match with Paltrow. Both are fortuitous
handsome, competent actors of no particularly        bawdy            sex-joke funny
distinctive charisma or talent. Other, more          alchemy          magic
appealing character actors appear in minor,          perceptibly      noticably
limited roles: Judi Dench as a cranky Queen          drabber          more boring than
Elizabeth, Rupert Everett as Marlowe and
                                                     intrigue         trickery and secrets
Antony Sher (he played Disraeli in "Mrs.
Brown" ), wasted, as Will's "therapist," arching anthology            collection of stories
his marvelous eyebrows at Will's litany of           libido           sex drive
unwittingly Freudian metaphors for his writer's block. Such dopey anachronistic humor eventually gives way
to a pleasant, if very familiar, package of hoary showbiz jokes -- vain actors, envious writers, stage-struck
investors, scheming rivals, mistaken identities, last-minute disasters and fortuitous substitutions.

        Madden clearly wants the movie to feel like one of Shakespeare's sunny, mature comedies -- a bit of
melodrama, a few clowns, some disguises, a touch of philosophy, some bawdy jokes, all wrapped around a
romance -- a grab bag of whimsies transformed by the bard's uncanny alchemy into something sublime. Of
course, not even Stoppard is Shakespeare, and the end result resembles one of Neil Simon's middlebrow
romps more than it does "As You Like It." Veins of Shakespeare's poetry run through the screenplay, and
they deliver occasional jolts of genius, heady and rich, that tend to dull the surrounding prose. Likewise (to
my own enduring surprise) Ben Affleck, playing the famous Elizabethan actor Ned Alleyn, strides into the
beleaguered theater company halfway through the film like a godling cast among mortals. He's so
commanding a presence, such a delight to watch, that the rest of the perfectly fine performers get perceptibly
drabber in his company. That, you think with a start, is a movie star. Unfortunately, it's the only entirely
unexpected thing about "Shakespeare in Love."

        There is a boatman in "Shakespeare in Love" who ferries Shakespeare across the Thames while
bragging, "I had Christopher Marlowe in my boat once." As Shakespeare steps ashore, the boatman tries to
give him a script to read. The contemporary feel of the humor (like Shakespeare's coffee mug, inscribed
"Souvenir of Stratford-Upon-Avon ") makes the movie play like a contest between "Masterpiece Theatre"
and Mel Brooks. Then the movie stirs in a sweet love story, juicy court intrigue, backstage politics and some
lovely moments from "Romeo and Juliet" (Shakespeare's working title: "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's
        Is this a movie or an anthology? I didn't care. I was carried along by the wit, the energy and a
surprising sweetness. The movie serves as a reminder that Will Shakespeare was once a young playwright on
the make, that theater in all times is as much business as show, and that "Romeo and Juliet" must have been
written by a man in intimate communication with his libido. The screenplay is by Marc Norman and Tom
Stoppard, whose play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" approached "Hamlet" from the points of
view of two minor characters.
        "Shakespeare in Love" is set in late Elizabethan England (the queen, played as a young woman by
Cate Blanchett in " Elizabeth ," is played as an old one here by Judi Dench). Theater in London is booming--
when the theaters aren't closed, that is, by plague warnings or bad debts. Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is not
as successful as the popular Marlowe (Rupert Everett), but he's a rising star, in demand by the impecunious
impresario Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush), whose Rose Theater is in hock to a money lender, and Richard
Burbage (Martin Clunes), whose Curtain Theater has Marlowe and would like to sign Shakespeare.
        The film's opening scenes provide a cheerful survey of the business of theater--the buildings, the
budgets, the script deadlines, the casting process. Shakespeare, meanwhile, struggles against deadlines and
complains in therapy that his quill has broken       impecunious    poor
(his therapist raises a Freudian eyebrow). What
                                                     impresario     master of ceremonies at an entertainment
does it take to renew his energy? A sight of the
beautiful Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), odious                disgusting
a rich man's daughter with the taste to prefer       masquerades    masked balls
Shakespeare to Marlowe, and the daring to put        nuptials       wedding
on men's clothes and audition for a role in          usurer         moneylender, loanshark
Will's new play.

         Players in drag were of course standard on the Elizabethan stage ("Stage love will never be true love,"
the dialogue complains, "while the law of the land has our beauties played by pipsqueak boys"). It was
conventional not to notice the gender disguises, and "Shakespeare in Love" asks us to grant the same leeway,
as Viola first plays a woman auditioning to play a man and later plays a man playing a woman. As the young
man auditioning to play Romeo, Viola wears a mustache and trousers and yet somehow inspires stirrings in
Will's breeches; later, at a dance, he sees her as a woman and falls instantly in love.
         Alas, Viola is to be married in two weeks to the odious Lord Wessex (Colin Firth), who will trade his
title for her father's cash. Shakespeare nevertheless presses his case, in what turns out to be a real-life
rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene, and when it is discovered that he violated Viola's
bedchamber, he thinks fast and identifies himself as Marlowe. (This suggests an explanation for Marlowe's
mysterious stabbing death at Deptford.) The threads of the story come together nicely on Viola's wedding
day, which ends with her stepping into a role she could not possibly have foreseen.
         The film has been directed by John Madden, who made "Mrs. Brown" (1997) about the affection
between Queen Victoria and her horse trainer. Here again he finds a romance that leaps across barriers of
wealth, titles and class. The story is ingeniously Shakespearean in its dimensions, including high and low
comedy, coincidences, masquerades, jokes about itself, topical references and entrances with screwball
timing. At the same time we get a good sense of how the audience was deployed in the theaters, where they
stood or sat and what their view was like--and also information about costuming, props and stagecraft.
         But all of that is handled lightly, as background, while intrigues fill the foreground, and the love story
between Shakespeare and Viola slyly takes form. By the closing scene, where Viola breaks the law against
women on the stage, we're surprised how much of Shakespeare's original power still resides in lines that now
have two or even three additional meanings. There's a quiet realism in the development of the romance,
which grows in the shadow of Viola's approaching nuptials: "This is not life, Will," she tells him. "It is a
stolen season." And Judi Dench has a wicked scene as Elizabeth , informing Wessex of his bride-to-be,
"You're a lordly fool; she's been plucked since I saw her last, and not by you. It takes a woman to know it."
         Fiennes and Paltrow make a fine romantic couple, high-spirited and fine-featured, and Ben Affleck
prances through the center of the film as Ned Alleyn, the cocky actor. I also enjoyed the seasoned
Shakespeareans who swelled the progress of a scene or two: Simon Callow as the Master of the Revels; Tom
Wilkinson as Fennyman, the usurer; Imelda Staunton as Viola's nurse; Antony Sher as Dr. Moth, the
         A movie like this is a reminder of the long thread that connects Shakespeare to the kids opening
tonight in a storefront on Lincoln Avenue: You get a theater, you learn the lines, you strut your stuff, you
hope there's an audience, you fall in love with another member of the cast, and if sooner or later your revels
must be ended, well, at least you reveled.

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