Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love Review

Shakespeare in Love is a 1998 romantic comedy film directed by John Madden and starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes. It received seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

The film presents an imaginary relationship between Viola and Shakespeare while he was writing Romeo and Juliet. This is an interesting film and an interesting experiment so to say. I have never watched anything quite like it. It is an original and unique mix of familiar ideas. That is a perfect way to sum up its story. It has Romeo and Juliet in it among other of his famous plays, it has an imaginary relationship that did not happen in real-life and it also shows the queen and some other famous people from this period. That means that the people are real, but they relationships and even portrayals are highly fictional making this a mix of fiction and history.

But it worked. It genuinely did work. And that is mostly thanks to its exuberant energy in execution and thanks to a very heartwarming and non-cliched ending that is also really poetic and a perfect, immensely satisfying conclusion to this story. I was not a fan of its first act, but all up from that to the end was really good with a couple of terrific and very memorable sequences.

The humor is what drives this movie while the romance is what diminishes its impact overall. That means that as a genre of romantic comedy, it both succeeds and fails. The romance at the center of the story is so typical and uninspired that even that memorable ending couldn’t save it. The two actors also exhibit little chemistry which is again troublesome. But the humor, oh the humor is so good! The queen herself is naturally the highlight providing a couple of highly amusing lines, but it is mostly a superb comedy of the sexes with the highly usual for that time confused and disguised acts. But it has both modern and old-fashioned laughs on that subject and it worked wonders for the film. The humor is probably the highlight of the entire film making it so enjoyably light-hearted and fun.

The characters are a mixed bag, some good, some mediocre. Shakespeare and Viola as the protagonists are rather bland and boring, but Viola is a lot better and she has her moments, while Will is just forgettable and at times even annoying. I also strongly disliked the overly sexualized approach in this movie, especially with the protagonist which was not needed at all. Henslowe is a wonderful comic relief and of course Elizabeth I is so phenomenal here, wonderfully portrayed and acted. She is a standout both for the humor and for her presence and well-written character.

The acting is really good. Joseph Fiennes is quite good in the lead role and Gwyneth Paltrow, while still not a great actress, nonetheless gave a respectable performance and has rarely been better. Geoffrey Rush is absolutely superb with his comic delivery and it is naturally Judi Dench who steals the show here with her deserved Oscar-winning performance full of dignity, humor and heart.

Speaking of the queen, I like not only how they portrayed her but also how they addressed the theme of a woman doing a man’s job. It also wonderfully explores love and love in a theatre. I love how it showcased theatre of the day with its politics and running. It is filled with incredible attention to detail. It is technically superb with stunning costumes, so realistic and filled with detail. The cinematography is also really good, the scenery is splendid and the direction is quite good. Shakespeare in Love is also well paced and it is a lush, grand picture, beautiful to look at and fueled with a big heart. The score is also good and the dialogue is terrific with some amazing lines. I also love how the movie is partially theatrical which is awesome and done in a great manner. And it is never predictable and ends in a refreshing way.

Now, for its Oscars. It got seven, of which the technical ones and I would add screenplay are highly deserved. As for Best Actress, Paltrow does give a quite good performance, but I wouldn’t call it Oscar-worthy as she is still not great and never has been. But Judi Dench definitely deserved her award as she was fantastic here. Shakespeare in Love is hated for beating ‘Saving Private Ryan‘ for the Best Picture award, but I do not feel that way at all. The Spielberg film is definitely better and is one of the best war films of all time, but this flick is not only enjoyable and clever, but also humorous and very charming which makes it not only a good, but a respectable Oscar winner. It shouldn’t have won, but I am still fine with that choice as the movie definitely has quality in spades.

Shakespeare in Love is both good and bad as a romantic comedy, bad because the romance at the center of it is weak and forgettable, but excellent because the humor is incredibly good with a couple of hilarious lines and an all around fun tone to it. The acting is not fantastic, but Judi Dench is awesome here and the characters, while the lead ones are so-so, the rest are very well developed and portrayed. It is also a technically polished film with superb costumes and beautiful scenery. It is a very entertaining and charming film which is above all an original and highly unique mix of familiar ideas.

My Rating – 4

Posted in 1990s, 1998, MOVIE REVIEWS, Romantic Comedy and tagged , , , , , .

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