Shakespeare in Love (1998)

As part of what appears to be my ongoing “unit” of Shakespeare, I re-watched Shakespeare in Love for the first time since seeing it in the theater ten years ago.

The Best Picture winner holds up well. Fiennes and Paltrow are pretty and charming in the leads; Paltrow won the Oscar for Best Actress that year. (I thought it should have gone to Cate Blanchett for Elizabeth.) Rupert Everett gets far too little screen time as Christopher Marlowe, while Ben Affleck gets too much as player Ned Alleyne. Tom Wilkinson, Geoffry Rush, and Imelda Staunton excel in supporting roles, while Colin Firth is a good sport, playing the foppish bad guy, an ironic contrast to his turn as Mr. Darcy, I think. Judi Dench as Elizabeth steals every scene she’s in and won the supporting actress Oscar for about eleven minutes of screen time. (I thought that Oscar should have gone to Lynn Redgrave from Gods and Monsters.)

By turns comic, tragic and romantic, SiL is a fitting homage to the work of Shakespeare. True to its roots, it is an entertainment. It combines history with the plays Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night to good effect. Tom Stoppard polished the screenplay; his is a funny, informed post-modern influence, as in this oft-repeated exchange:

“It will all turn out well.”


“I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”

SiL is fun and touching, but not to be taken as fact–it’s a pleasing fiction, based on the work of others, like Shakespeare’s own works.

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