Shakespeare In Love

Updated February 11, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
Director: John Madden
Writers: Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard
Miramax; R; 113 minutes
Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Simon Callow, Jim Carter, Martin Clunes, Antony Sher, Imelda Staunton, Tom Wilkinson, and Mark Williams

William Shakespeare: epic, local, sublime, bawdy, tragic, playful. An undoubted genius, the man was also a hack, writing plays for roughneck crowds who also enjoyed such delicate entertainment as bear-baiting. And so it is absolutely delightful to first see Shakespeare (Fiennes) away in his garret with pen in hand — not writing masterworks of English literature, but practicing his signature. Mingling high drama with humor and humanity was Shakespeare's talent, and this film captures that rare essence. Hilariously, the first lines you'll recognize from the literary Shakespeare are by an angry priest declaiming against theater. Young Will takes note, just as he does when fellow playwright Christopher Marlowe (Everett) suggests the plot structure for what will come to be called Romeo and Juliet.

This spirited movie takes the template of Romeo and Juliet to the next level: the developing relationship between Will and Viola (Paltrow) turns into the material for Will's newest play, which Viola is secretly starring in, dressing as a boy due to Elizabethan strictures against women on stage. Excellent cutting and scene juxtapositions depict a passionate frenzy as the lovers become titillated by the sexy drama of each other as well as the stage-drama they simultaneously constitute and create.

Will, whose primary mode of transportation seems to be sprinting, makes for a believable bard with dark eyes and smoldering looks. The on-screen chemistry between Fiennes and Paltrow is overcharged at times, but nonetheless electric. The film is stocked with a delightful array of side characters — look for scene-stealing performances from Ben Affleck and Judi Dench. Dench displays a delightfully fastidious economy of acting in her role of Queen Elizabeth She uses every episode to reveal a new dimension to her character, creating one of the film's most complex figures with a minimum of lines.

And what is a period piece without an anachronism? Ask unsavory Sir Wessex (Firth), who intends to wed Viola and spirit her away to his tobacco farms in America … roughly 20 years become the first colonial tobacco crops were planted.

Although the film is accessible to all, familiarity with the Bard is sure to heighten the experience. The script's fresh, polyphonous pacing is yet another welcome nod to Shakespeare's dramatic inventiveness. Writers Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead) and Marc Norman have packed in a whimsical tempest of allusions, puns, double entendres, and malapropisms sure to satisfy any Shakespearean. Even more impressive is the way Shakespeare in Love is structured with Shakespeare's favorite tropes: there is cross-dressing and mistaken identity, plays-within-a-play and shameless soliloquizing, swordfights and verbal jests, crude humor and high lyricism, ghost-sightings and murderous misunderstandings, forbidden love and social binds, and of course, finely-written twists between comedy and tragedy. Get thee to a cinema!

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