The Good: Interesting story, Good acting, Amusing moments, Costuming
The Bad: Predictable, Some pacing issues
The Basics: Surprisingly good acting and a sufficiently good story make for an overall fine movie, even if Shakespeare In Love is not truly the Best Film of . . . well, any recent year.
Shakespeare In Love is a fine movie. It has all of the essentials: humor, romance, moments of drama, great actors and actresses and Gwyneth Paltrow's breasts. Sigh. Shakespeare In Love was nominated and won for Best Picture of 1998. The truth is, it deserved it more than Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line. But Best Picture of the year? Nah. That honor goes to either The Red Violin or Gods And Monsters. Both films are superior to Shakespeare In Love. What they have that this film lacks is consistent greatness. A rising to something beyond the story being told, a commentary on something deeper in humanity as a whole.
Ironic that, given that Shakespeare is held as the standard for making statements on humanity that Shakespeare In Love fails to do that. It tries to. There's a bet made in the film about plays making commentaries truthful on life and love and Romeo And Juliet is cited as the example. Romeo And Juliet does that, Shakespeare In Love, doesn't. Or if it does, it does it significantly less. Either way, Shakespeare In Love is simply not great. Or if it is, The Red Violin (and probably to a lesser extent Gods And Monsters) is on a tier of greatness markedly above Shakespeare In Love. It's more worth your time.
That said, Shakespeare In Love is a fine film. It's entertaining, which is a far sight more than most films I've watched (and rated) lately. Sitting down to watch it, I was entertained; I did not feel like, "oh, it's taking something out of my day to actually have to pay attention to this." In fact, it was fun. It was enjoyable.
The film focuses on William Shakespeare, suffering from writer's block while commissioned to write "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter." Shakespeare meets Viola and it is love at first sight. He then woos Viola and in the process, they fall in love. This, naturally, cures his writer's block and complicates his life (though not so much as his wife never appears in the film). Viola, for her part, ends up complicating her life as the Queen has given permission to Phillip Henslowe to marry her. Shakespeare then is hunted by Henslowe (who thinks he's Marlowe) personally, while being confronted by debtors. Shakespeare is feeling some heat, Viola is feeling some heat. They bathe in each other.
So, in this fictionalized version, Romeo And Juliet is written and Viola ends up in the play and Shakespeare ends up successful.
The acting is good. Judi Dench was born to play Queen Elizabeth. I was surprised by how much I liked Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare. I was even surprised that Gwyneth Paltrow (despite the repeated unwrapping of her breasts - because Viola is impersonating a man at times in the film, bare with me -) was competent. She was good as Viola. She was good enough that I was thinking of her as Viola, not Gwyneth.
The costumes were excellent. Quite nice, the costumes definitely enhanced the whole feel of the film and sell the viewers on the reality of the time and place.
The only real drawback outside the obviousness of the film (being that it was predictable) was that it had pacing issues. There were many moments I thought the film was coming to its perfectly reasonable climax and then it kept going. It had too many moments where it was either too fast or too slow.
All in all, Shakespeare In Love is a good film; solid acting (especially in the background performers), well plotted and humorous and well-written enough to keep my interest, but it was not truly the best picture of 1998. I lament that it didn't go up against Titanic; then I would have rooted for it!
As a winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this film is part of W.L.'s Best Picture Project, which is available by clicking here!
For other period pieces, please check out my reviews of:
Memoirs Of A Geisha
For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2009, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.