Shakespeare In Love

The tale begins with a nearly destitute Shakespeare desperately trying to overcome his writer’s block

I was not sure whether or not I would like Shakespeare In Love. I was a bit upset that it beat out Saving Private Ryan for the best picture Oscar but when I got the DVD I decided to give it a try and judge it on it’s own merit. I was very glad that I did!

Shakespeare In Love is a real keeper. It is funny, poignant, and satirical even boasting a bit of action. Normally, it would be difficult to balance so many different aspects in the same film but director John Madden pulls it off. As with most films, the director needs help in such an effort and here the help is plentiful. First, some of the best lines in the movie are directly from Shakespeare, you can hardly go wrong there. Writers Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard weave a story that captivates the viewer and draws him into the fray of 16th century England. The actors are all well cast from the stunning performances of the leads, Joseph Fiennes as the young, under employed bard and Gwyneth Paltrow as the beautiful lady that aspires to defy the law and become an actor. The surround world is populated by the likes of Geoffrey Rush, Ben Affleck, Colin Firth and Simon Callow each bring a unique humanity to their roles. Judi Dench provides a short but powerful performance as Queen Elizabeth showing once again how a Queen should be presented.

The tale begins with a nearly destitute Shakespeare desperately trying to overcome his writer’s block. His latest work is titled ‘Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter’. It is to be a comedy and hopefully sold for production on the stage. The stage back then consisted of one of two theaters, the Rose, a beaten down building operated by Rush and The Curtain, a far more up scale place operated by his rival. The Queen has been known to attend productions at the Curtain but the clientele of the Rose is a bit more ‘earthy’. Poor Will feels he has lost his muse and seeks professional help from a medieval psychiatrist complete with a couch. The shrink offers his scientific advise, to take a bracelet in the form of a serpent, write his name of a scroll and stick it into the serpent’s mouth and give the bracelet to a maiden. The maiden will then dream of Will and his writing power will be restored. Needless to stay this treatment plan goes awry when the girl he gives the bracelet to turns out to be the mistress of the Master of Revel, the man that holds the power over all actors, writers and theaters.

It seems that Will is always running somewhere, or rather away from someone. The whole of London seems to be populated by people that are really actors or writers and not actually of the job they hold. This gives a bit of a satirical flavor to Shakespeare In Love since it seems almost like a 16th century ‘LA Story’. Will finally gets a chance to put on his play. There is a little problem, he has almost nothing down on paper. Later, at a dance, Will catches sight of young Viola, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant. Love hits Will at once and his writing is stirred immediately. The comedy of Romeo and Ethel begins to flow but Will is so moved by the beautiful Viola that the play starts to take on deeper meanings. Viola is to be wed to a man with no money but with a title to offer her father. What Viola really wants to do is be an actor, a profession forbidden to women at that time. She disguises herself as a boy and tries out for the role of Romeo. After a bit of confusion, Will discovers that the boy is actually the woman he has fallen in love with and they start an affair. By the end there is much in the way of deception, sword fighting, romance and comedy but the most moving moments are in the performance of Will and Viola as Romeo and Juliet that is deep and moving.

The pacing of Shakespeare In Love is wonderful. It never slows but moves along like a play by Shakespeare. The scenery of old London is captivating and alive in every little detail. The sound on the DVD is excellent. The rear speakers are a bit under utilized but the ambiance of the streets and theaters are very realistic. The score is punctuated by music that is sometimes haunting, sometimes fragile it in it’s beauty but always present to underline the players. The video was well done. There were no artifacts due to the compression. The only disappointment was the lack of added features. All in all, Shakespeare In Love is a must for any collector.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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