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With: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Simon Callow, Imelda Staunton, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck, Rupert Everett
Written by: Marc Norman, Tom Stoppard
Directed by: John Madden
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality
Running Time: 122
Date: 12/03/1998

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A Bard Day's Night

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

You don't have to love Shakespeare to enjoy Shakespeare in Love, but ithelps. The screenplay, by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, brilliantly drips allkinds of references and in-jokes all through the movie. But even if you're notfamiliar with the Bard's plays, you've probably heard of simple slogans like "theshow must go on", which the movie also utilizes.

It's the 16 Century in Verona, and young Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is working on a play called Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter. It's going badly and he believes his muse is gone. Enter Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is incredibly moved by Shakespeare's writing. She disguises herself as a man and wins the part of Romeo in the play. The pair fall in love, and Will is energized to write again. But Viola is supposed to marry a boorish stooge, Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) and go away to America. Still, Will continues to scribble away furiously -- and to meet with Viola secretly -- as rehearsals commence.

Stoppard also wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which focused on two supporting characters in Hamlet and twisted that play around in a brilliantly satirical way. Shakespeare in Love does the same for Romeo and Juliet, but the result is more desperately romantic. Will and Viola's secret meetings are deliciously sexy (it doesn't hurt that both stars are easy on the eyes). The rest of the movie works because of its wonderful wit and imaginative use of Shakespeare's works. There are dozens of brilliant throwaway gags, such as the sexual role reversal of Romeo and Juliet, and the actor who plays Juliet's nurse being asked what the play is about. He replies, "well, it's about this nurse..."

Shakespeare in Love moves fast, and may deserve multiple viewings. It's a delicious feast of lowbrow and highbrow mixed with romance. The movie also stars Judi Dench (as a marvelous Queen Elizabeth), Geoffrey Rush, Ben Affleck and, in a cameo, Rupert Everet (as Dr. Faustus author Christopher Marlowe). It's directed by John Madden (Mrs. Brown), who does a fine job with the actors, but does not always clearly shoot the action scenes. This is a screenwriter's movie -- the bulk of the credit goes to Mr. Stoppard and Mr. Norman. Shakespeare in Love is a triumph.

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