VIEWS: 13 PAGES: 6 POSTED ON: 8/28/2012
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 world 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 romance 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 treats. 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. PUBLICATION NOTES SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE 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 pleasant. 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 salon.com - - - - - - - - - - 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 well. 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 hoary Fiennes -- a lanky, doe-eyed dreamboat lucky -- 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." BY ROGER EBERT 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 Daughter"). 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 therapist. 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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