January 26, 1999 -- "Shakespeare in Love," has to be one of the most irresistible movies I have ever seen. It absolutely seduces you into overlooking the overindulgences of its creators. Ordinary, I would call a film like this too clever by half, but I couldn't help falling for its charms.
The film stars Joseph Fiennes (who played Robert Dudley in "Elizabeth" and yes, he's the younger brother of Ralph Fiennes of "The English Patient") as a young Will Shakespeare in 1598. Will is, of course, a brilliant playwright and poet, but he's having a hard time making ends meet, so he's constantly on the make for both money and women. He needs the money to keep body and soul together, but he needs love to pump up his muse.
Will plays two theater owners off of each other to get more money. The owner of the Rose Theatre, Philip Henslowe (wonderfully played by Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush) and the owner of the Curtain Theatre Richard Burbage. Henslowe, whose feet are being literally held to the fire by moneylender Hugh Fennyman (Tom Wilkinson) is desperate for a popular play so he can pay off his debts, while Burbage already has Shakespeare's chief rival Christopher Marlowe (Rupert Everett).
The rivalry between Shakespeare and Marlowe is a funny running gag through the first three-quarters of the film. A ferryman at one point tells Will, "I had Christopher Marlowe in my boat once." The devious way that Shakespeare keeps dangling his new script for "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter" in front of the two theatre owners is another running gag. What is really ingenious, however, is the way the two Golden Globe-winning screenwriters, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, manage to weave the romance in "Romeo and Juliet" into this film.
The romance between Will and Viola De Lesseps, (Gwyneth Paltrow) a guest in the Royal Palace is similar to that of Romeo and Juliet, complete with the balcony. The intertwining of the two stories becomes complete as Viola, who becomes an actor even though it is forbidden in Elizabethan times, recites lines of Romeo and Juliet with Will. Then you have the whole woman pretending to be a man pretending to be woman thing, similar to "Victor Victoria." There is also the delicious evolution of moneylender Fennyman, who starts out tough as nails, but is seduced by the lure of the theatre and becomes an actor.
Unlike most period pieces like this, there is a certain irreverence for the time and place, such as the psychiatrist visit and the inn keeper announcing the dinner special at a restaurant. These bits give the film a very contemporary feel. It is also a much faster-paced comedy than most period pieces. Like a screwball comedy, director John Madden (not the sportscaster) and film editor David Gamble keep the story moving ahead at breakneck speed.
Fiennes is terrific as the main character. Paltrow, whom I have not been impressed with prior to this, is excellent in this film, and, of course, there's the marvelous performances of Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth and Wilkinson as the transformed moneylender. This is one of the best films of the year. It rates an A.
Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.