Review: Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love



John Madden


Marc Norman, Tom Stoppard


123 min.


Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Martin Clunes, Jim Carter, Judi Dench, Mark Williams, Simon Callow, Steve O’Donnell, Tim McMullen, Steven Beard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Imelda Staunton, Colin Firth, Sandra Reinton, Nicholas Boulton, Jill Baker, Nicholas Le Prevost, Ben Affleck

MPAA Rating

R (For sexuality)

Buy/Rent Movie




William Shakespeare wrote dozens of plays that have become celebrated cornerstones of modern theater. In Shakespeare in Love, we’re given a fictional look at the type of creative process that might have gone on in the Bard’s time.

Having run out of ideas and attempting to bankroll his latest romantic play “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter”, Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) finds inspiration in a young woman who is so desperate to act on stage that she pretends to be a boy. Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) plays that would-be actress pursuing her passion secretly while her fiancé Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) remains unaware.

Her secret is uncovered by Will who gleefully unwraps Viola’s bossom whenever he gets the opportunity but both face serious repercussions if they are caught. At the time Shakespeare wrote, it was forbidden by law for a woman to act on stage. Female roles were given to young boys or effeminate men in order to appease this ruling. Both are aware of the restriction but both keep up the charade out of love for each other and love of the art. After all, Will has the inspiration he seriously needed and Viola gets to do what she’s always wanted.

Shakespeare in Love is an intriguing romantic comedy that gives us a rare look at how artists worked centuries ago. Although we understand going in that very little was known about Shakespeare the man, we can easily believe that these events could likely have taken place. The praise for that can be heaped on Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard whose screenplay is not only literate, borrowing from Shakespeare’s own works to fill the film with interesting characters and molds, but also entertaining.

Fiennes, brother of Oscar-nominated thesp Ralph Fiennes, was a perfect fit for the part of Shakespeare. His vigor and passion for the role is unmistakable and it helps convey to the audience his and his characters profound abilities. Gwyneth Paltrow alongside Fiennes is well above the level I’ve generally expected of her. She has a great deal of talent and she does play the part with frivolous abandon but there is little revelatory or inspirational about her performance.

Director John Madden keeps the various elements of the production together well enough to engage the audience in his world. Though the images painted on his canvas are beautiful, well written and well acted, the film seems a bit too pretty. We know from other films and historical texts that the streets of big cities were hardly ever as visually appealing as they are in Shakespeare in Love. Sure the film depicts them as dirt-covered and filled with urchins but even the urchins seem well fed and happy. With a movie so devoted to capturing the essence of the actual writing of the Bard, it’s surprising that such details would be glossed over.

We learn a great deal about love and creativity from Shakespeare in Love. Its surprise win over Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture verifies that fact. Even though it is most certainly not the best film of 1998, it is nevertheless a movie to enjoy and by which you can be effectively entertained.

Review Written

January 3, 2007

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