Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Shakespeare in Love

"I don’t know; it’s a mystery."

Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is a struggling playwright banished by his wife and child to London and tired of the constant attention and devotion garnered by renowned playwright Christopher Marlowe (Rupert Everett) which provides one of the films best running jokes. With a little help from Marlowe and a the sight of his new muse the lady Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow who won the Oscar for Best Actress) Will begins to write what will become his great love story “Romeo and Juliet.”

The film is part love story between Will and Viola, part farce and vaudeville, and touches strongly on both comedy and drama. Full of strong performances including Judi Dench in a Academy Award winning role as Queen Elizabeth, Ben Affleck as the leader of the players (actors), Geoffrey Rush in a particularly good performance as theater owner Philip Henslowe, Tom Wilkinson as an Elizabethan gangster Hugh Fennyman, and Colin Firth as Viola’s fiancé Lord Wessex. All are noteworthy in terrific performances.

Though the performances are all outstanding it’s the terrific writing that’s the highlight of the film. I very much enjoyed the recurring jokes and allusions to his later works and how real life events observed on the streets can so easily find their way into the writer’s work.

The DVD gives us two commentary tracks, one with director Mark Madden and a second with Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Judi Dench, producers Donna Gigliotti and David Parfitt, screenwriters Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, production designer Martin Childs, costume designer Sandy Powell, and cinematographer Richard Greatrex. There’s a nice featurette on the making of the film with clips and discussions of other film versions of Shakespeare’s plays and interviews with the cast and crew. Also included is a featurette on the Academy Award winning costumes, the original TV spots, and deleted scenes.

I don’t really feel I have to do much to praise the film (its seven Academy Awards - including Best Picture, Best Actress and Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay - do nicely on their own). It’s a very clever film but one that has a strong heart; not just intellectually amusing but emotionally engaging as well.

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