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The Cranky Critic® reviews Shakespeare in Love
IN SHORT: Finally, a fun movie for grown-ups.
Cranky's been sitting through so many Oscar® wannabees that his brain was beginning to melt. Movies that were too long. Movies that were too heavy. Movies that were just out and out indulgent crap. And none of those descriptions or adjectives apply to Shakespeare in Love, an absolutely lovely piece of movie making. Funny and filled with all sorts of things historical and cultural that film students can discuss over their after screening cappucino. For the rest of us normal folk, it's just right.
Set four hundred years ago, Shakespeare in Love details a battle of literary (and by logical extension) economic wills between two English theaters and their resident poets and/or playwrights. At the prosperous Curtain Theater sits Christopher "Kit" Marlowe who, for the cost of a beaker of mead will help struggling writer William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) out with problems of story construction and character naming and what not. For those of you out there thinking "Oh God not history" hold back on the nodding out, it gets much better.
Mr. Fenneyman (Geoffrey Rush), the owner of the Rose Theater where Shakespeare hangs his quill is deep in debt to a local moneylender (Tom Wilkinson). Short of having his limbs all hacked and mangled brave Mr. Fenneyman offers a partnership in the new play by Shakespeare, a rousing comedy of Pirates and Kings and a funny little dog. You all know it from English History: "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate King's Daughter."
Two three four... rimshot.
That's only a set up, folks. The true story is that poor Will is suffering from a mighty writer's block that only love, or a potent charm from the sixteenth century equivalent of a shrink can deliver. The former is free. The latter costs fourpenny. Out in the high paying seats, the lovely Lady Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow) swoons to the sonnets of the Bard and dreams that she, too, could trod the boards and bespeak the poetry that twangs her heartstrings so. Women were not allowed to perform on stage in those days, which may explain why drag is such a big deal in England even to this day. But I digress...
The lady does herself up in male drag auditioning for the play as "Thomas Kent". Shakespeare is dumbstruck, he's found the Romeo he's been dreaming of. But the actor runs off and, on chasing him down, Shakespeare stumbles upon the real life form of Paltrow, daughter of a rich family, engaged to be married to Lord Wessex, a poor but soon to be wealthy Virginia tobacco farmer (Colin Firth). Yes, it's a comedy of errors and reads like something out of the twelfth night -- surf the net or, better yet, rent the adaptations 'cuz Cranky doesn't have time to recount them here.
The script by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard is brilliant. When you deconstruct it, Shakespeare in Love is built in perfect Shakespearian form. It mixes a great story with bits and pieces of history (whether fact or fiction it matters not); lies and deception; mistaken identities; a couple of swordfights; a passion that can only end badly and, of course, a dog.
That's a running gag in the flick. You'll appreciate it when you see it.
Famous lines of Shakespearian dialog drop out of the mouths of supporting characters (and at all times the Bard takes note of 'em for future reference). And while set four centuries back, the lure of the spotlight is just as seducing to the moneylenders of that faraway time as it is now. Tom Wilkinson is herewith noted for another fine supporting performance (as was the case with The Full Monty and The Governess and to a lesser extent Rush Hour) as is Geoffrey Rush, who has already won a statue so enough about him.
Judi Dench strides through as the elderly Queen Elizabeth, who sets everything right as the final curtain falls. She's a Queen, it's her right y'know, and all is well.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Shakespeare in Love, he would have paid...
You don't have to know Shakespeare to appreciate Shakespeare in Love, but the more you do the funnier it gets. Getting past the Middle English dialect takes only a slight bit of work and the reward, of course, is the luminous Ms. Paltrow. Unless you'd rather look at Fiennes. To each his own, someone wrote...