This bawdy, slightly irreverent but delightfully entertaining
romantic comedy offers us a fictional interpretation of the creation
of Romeo And Juliet, one of literature's greatest tragic love stories.
The film is set in the Elizabethan London of 1593. Up and
coming young playwright Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes, recently
seen in Elizabeth) has been commissioned to write a play by
sycophantic but debt ridden theatre owner Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush, in
a wonderful comic turn). It is hoped that this new play will put him
on a par with arch rival, the famous playwright Christopher Marlowe
(an uncredited Rupert Everett). But, even before he has put pen to
paper for his farce Romeo And Ethel, The Pirate's Daughter, he is
unfortunately struck by writer's block.
Enter Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow, in a role originally intended
for Julia Roberts), the headstrong daughter of a noble family, who
desperately wants to become an actress at a time when women were
forbidden to pursue a career in the theatre. Although she is
betrothed to the slimy Wessex (Colin Firth) in an arranged marriage,
Shakespeare falls heavily in love with Viola. She becomes his muse,
and soon the words are flowing from his quill. Their illicit romance
provides the inspiration for the struggling playwright, and the drama
of their affair is reflected in the developing play.
Some of the characters and incidental details may already be
familiar to audiences who saw the lavish BBC tv mini-series starring
Tim Curry as Shakespeare. Playwright Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz And
Guildenstern Are Dead, etc) and co-writer Marc Norman suffuse their
script with an air of irreverence, playfully mixing fact with fiction.
The result is a briskly paced and enjoyable comedy about love,
mistaken identities, duels, passion and death - the very stuff that
became the essence of Shakespeare's famous plays.
This wonderfully written film offers plenty of insights into
the world of Elizabethan theatre without becoming didactic. British
director John Madden (Mrs Brown) also gives it a slightly contemporary
flavour with his treatment of the off stage dramas, the bruised egos,
the rivalry between writers, and the scrambling for patronage and
favour. His direction is crisp, and he makes the most of the sharp
script and the poetic beauty of the dialogue.
The ensemble cast are all uniformly good, and their solid
performances lift this delicious comedy. Golden Globe winner Paltrow
is luminescent as Viola, and she delivers a wonderful performance in a
quite challenging dual role. Fiennes only stepped into the role of
Shakespeare after Daniel Day Lewis passed, but it's hard to imagine
anyone else bringing such passion, wit and smouldering intensity to
the part. He is superb, and if he keeps getting good roles in quality
films like this, the younger Fiennes will possibly eclipse his more
famous but over rated brother Ralph.
Tom Wilkinson brings his usual touch of class to his role as
Fennyman, the money lender who eventually sponsors the creation of
Romeo And Juliet. Judi Dench lends her commanding presence to the
role of Queen Elizabeth. Imelda Staunton is marvellous as Viola's
sympathetic and understanding nurse.
This handsomely mounted production beautifully brings to life
the Elizabethan setting. The costumes and the set design evoke the
marked contrasts between Viola's world of pomp and privilege and the
destitute, grimy world of London's growing theatre community. Stephen
Warbeck's gorgeous music score and Richard Greatrex's luscious
cinematography further enhance the classy production.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King