I'd like to spank the Academy

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

shakespeare in love posterDirected by John Madden

I hadn’t seen this movie when it first came out, so all I really knew about it was that according to everyone, it stole the best picture Oscar from Saving Private Ryan (which I also hadn’t seen). I think I was half expecting it to be terrible after all the outrage. And I know I am about to damn this movie with faint praise, but it was cute. There was nothing really wrong with it.

So what’s the story? Shakespeare, a young playwright with a good reputation, is struggling to write his next play. He finds a muse in Viola De Lesseps, a young woman so obsessed with the theater that she is willing to break the law and perform on stage disguised as a man. There are some misunderstandings and mishaps, but eventually Shakespeare writes his masterpiece Romeo and Juliet.

The Good: I loved the production design. I felt like it was a very full picture of Elizabethan England, from the formality of the court to the disgusting dirtiness of the streets. It felt very alive. It almost made me want to live in those times. Well, no. Really too dirty for my taste. But maybe visit!

The music! It was fun and upbeat and just…fit. Loved it.

The supporting cast was great. I’m not a huge fan of either Gwyneth Paltrow or Joseph Fiennes, but I loved everyone else. Imelda Staunton as the nurse was a huge favorite of mine, as was Geoffrey Rush in his role as a befuddled producer. Colin Firth was surprising as a slightly evil stuffed shirt nobleman, and I loved Mark Williams as the tailor who wanted to be an actor. Judi Dench was good in her expanded cameo as Queen Elizabeth, even though I don’t think that eight minutes of a movie is enough to count as a supporting role. I even liked Ben Affleck’s egotistical actor. The cast was really just stellar.

The Bad: The writers played around with history a little too much for my liking. Romeo and Juliet was written in the 1590s; no one was settling Virginia until the early 1600s. But since I feel like the filmmakers weren’t trying to make any kind of serious movie, but just present a fun alternative backstory to Romeo and Juliet, I suppose I can forgive them.

The Ugly: There’s nothing really ugly about this movie. It’s just cute and sweet. But I do have a little rant. Everyone thinks the ending of this movie is so sad. But guess what? It wouldn’t have lasted. And no one seems to understand that. Whatever the real Shakespeare was like, the character in this movie was a philanderer who fell in and out of love with ease, just like Romeo. Which has always bugged me about Romeo, incidentally. I guess I just have never felt that Romeo and Juliet was a particularly romantic play, so I carry those feelings over to this movie.

Oscars Won: Best picture; best actress in a leading role; best actress in a leading role; best writing, screenplay written directly for the screen; best art direction-set direction; best costume design; best music, original musical or comedy score.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best actor in a supporting role (Geoffrey Rush); best director; best cinematography; best sound; best film editing; best makeup.

Comments on: "Shakespeare in Love (1998)" (2)

  1. I agree–this movie was cute. But should “cute” beat out “Life is Beauiful”? (No.) I loved Ben Affleck in this movie. Hahahaha. And even though I was/am not a massive fan of Paltrow (her character or the actress), I think everyone else does a bang-up job. Wait! Not true! I thought Colin Firth actually kind of sucked as boring evil fiancé. Maybe it was because his character was so dang cliche, but it just rubbed me the wrong way. And I agree that Judi Dench, though fab, didn’t really accomplish enough to be a “Best Supporting Actress.” I think they were just thrilled to see Dame Dench playing cranky Queen Elizabeth.

    And on the “it wouldn’t have lasted; Shakespeare was a bit too much like Romeo himself” note–yes. Romeo and Juliet is not a romantic love story. It’s a teenage lust story which lasts for three days and results in a body count of six. (Also, my favorite sassy Internet response to lovesick teenagers–“What if he’s my Romeo but I’m not his Juliet?” “Then you’re his Rosaline, and you survive the play. Congratulations.”)

    One minor quibble: the costume design, while gorgeous, does take a few liberties. But I LOVED that the stage costumes were obviously out-of-fashion castoffs from the nobility.


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