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'Shakespeare in Love'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 25, 1998

  Movie Critic

Shakespeare in Love
Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow take a twirl in "Shakespeare in Love." (Miramax)

Director:
John Madden
Cast:
Joseph Fiennes;
Gwyneth Paltrow;
Judi Dench;
Rupert Everett;
Geoffrey Rush;
Colin Firth;
Ben Affleck
Running Time:
1 hour, 43 minutes
R
Contains a bit of profanity, some dirty double entendres, a melee, discreet sex and a flash of nudity
Oscars:
Picture; Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow); Supporting Actress (Judi Dench); Original Screenplay; Art Direction; Score; Costume
When William Shakespeare experienced writer's block (along with feelings of sexual inadequacy) he would pay a visit to the Elizabethan equivalent of a shrink for a quick session of psychoanalysis. So John Madden's "Shakespeare in Love" would have you believe – and by the end of this manic and enchanting fantasia, you will believe it.

Set in the bustling London of 1593, the movie could be called "The Making of 'Romeo and Juliet,' " but when the dizzy story begins, the working title of the playwright's rudimentary script is "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter."

The plot, not to mention the unwieldy title, needs work, as Will (Joseph Fiennes) only too well knows. Furthermore, the play's chief backer, shady businessman Philip Henslowe (a hysterical Geoffrey Rush), is having his own problems, having been forced to cast his talentless dentist in a significant role in order to pay for much-needed work on his rotting choppers.

Enter Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), a pretty young noblewoman who's been bitten by the theater bug, an unfortunate malady in an age when women were not allowed on stage and female roles were all played by young men. With a boy's wig and fake mustache, she calls herself Thomas Kent, auditioning for – and getting – the role of Romeo in the as yet unfinished play. Will, meanwhile, falls in love with Viola when he follows "Kent" home only to discover a lady in residence.

Wittily co-written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, "Shakespeare" is filled with unabashed anachronisms. In addition to the psychiatrist scene, there is a solicitous waiter rattling off "today's specials" and a smirking dig at self-indulgent film credits. Purists may be initially put off by such goofiness, but Paltrow and Fiennes are so good and the script, referencing not only "Romeo and Juliet" but "Twelfth Night," is so consistently intelligent that seduction is inevitable.

In the large and expert supporting cast, Judi Dench shines as a stern but fair Queen Elizabeth, as does Ben Affleck as conceited actor Ned Alleyn.

"Shakespeare in Love" is really two love stories: one a heady human romance and one a paean to the art of the play, a special Christmas present for anyone who is passionate about showmanship.

   
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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