shakespeare This Oscar season I’ve heard the Shakespeare in Love upset brought up a lot, mostly by Silver Linings Playbook hopefuls. Back in 1998 Saving Private Ryan seemed like the shoe in win–much like Spielberg’s Lincoln appears to be this year. As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think SLP has much chance against Lincoln (I’m holding out for Argo in this case) but I’d like to see the film that actually broke through the expectations. I’ve heard it’s one of the worst winners while others defend the film’s charm.
Directed by: John Madden Screenplay by: Mark Norman & Tom Stoppard Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Ben Affleck, & Judi Dench.

This film combines a darling romance, witty comedy, a dash of drama, and a bit of revisionist history in this tale of Shakespeare’s art imitating his life. In a bought of writer’s block while trying to get his latest play Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter put to page he falls in love with Viola de Lesseps. Viola is a daughter of a wealthy man who’s arranged her marriage to a controlling Lord, when of course she wants love and poetry in her life. When her parents leave on a trip she auditions for Shakespeare’s working play in drag and is cast as Romeo. As the two connect in real life, Shakespeare is inspired to write Romeo and Juliet, taking bits of their own romance to build the story of the timeless tragedy.

shakespeare2My Thoughts:

It took me about a half hour of the film to really get a hold of this film, but it was sometime around seeing Gwyneth Paltrow don a fake mustache that I realized that I actually completely adored Shakespeare in Love. At first this period piece seems a bit more like a drama until the comedy really comes to light as you notice that it is quite funny. Not as obvious and laugh out loud as Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but along the same line of that type of riffing on the period and witty play on words–it’s the type of movie that just puts a silly grin on your face.

It completely helps that Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, as Shakespeare (who was never possibly as good looking), completely sell you on the romance. I was quite taken by their chemistry and the interplay of them as Viola and Will reflecting Juliet and Romeo was perfect. The Oscar-winning script interplays these scenes perfectly as lines from the play are read on stage edited alongside their exchanges in bed. And for Shakespeare enthusiasts there’s plenty of in jokes with characters reciting lines from future works in conversation while plot elements come into play throughout.

The performances throughout are wonderful, with smaller bits by nominee Geoffrey Rush and winner Judi Dench. Honestly, I don’t get why Rush was nominated, and I might even have put Ben Affleck up for his small part as actor Ned Alleyn (who plays Mercutio) instead who I thought had a more memorable role. Dench on the other hand was very memorable, but was she really the best of the year in this small role? The other winner from this movie Gwyneth Paltrow actually stunned me. I’ve never been too impressed by her but in this I thought she was fantastic and I got why she earned top honors. Lastly, the one left out would be Fiennes who I believe was every bit as deserving of a nomination as the three aforementioned cast members. I haven’t seen all of the other performances up for lead actor, but I thought he was great as Shakespeare.

Now I agree that it’s a bit surprising that this film beat out the admirable Saving Private Ryan but I see why the Academy was taken by the heartstrings by Shakespeare in Love. SPR definitely seems more deserving but they couldn’t be farther apart in content or form to compare the two. I do appreciate that a comedy was able to win the Oscar since it’s rare. This films’ intricate and original script paired with it’s perfect ensemble performances made it easy for me to understand how it managed to win Best Picture even if it was a steal (now the Weinstein controversy will remain untouched by me).

Other Academy Award nominations and wins:

Best Picture
Best Actress – Gwyneth Paltrow
Best Supporting Actress – Judi Dench
Best Original Screenplay – Mark Norman & Tom Stoppard
Best Original Musical or Comedy Score – Stephen Warbeck
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Best Director – John Madden
Best Supporting Actor – Geoffrey Rush
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing
Best Makeup
Best Sound

shakespeare5The Other Guys:
  • Elizabeth – This queen takes over from her sister to take over a struggling country while engaging in an affair – Won Best Make Up & nominated in 4 other categories
  • Life is Beautiful – A Jewish man in a concentration camp keeps up a ruse that it’s all pretend to protect his son from the actual horrors – Won Best Lead Actor (Roberto Benigni), Dramatic Score, Foreign Language Film & nominated in 3 other categories
  • Saving Private Ryan – This Spielberg war film follows a captain’s journey through WWII Europe to recover the last surviving son in the Ryan family – Won Best Director, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Effects Editing, & nominated in 5 other categories
  • The Thin Red Line – This ensemble war film about a fictional battle is a study of soldiers in wartime – Nominated in 6 other category

6 thoughts on “Best Picture Series: Shakespeare in Love (1998)

  1. I loved this film, so it’s good to read about someone else enjoying it, too. I have no problems with it beating Saving Private Ryan. The argument against it seems to mostly boil down to “it’s only got romance and humor in it, but no suffering. How can a movie be Best Picture without suffering?”

    I also have no problem with Paltrow winning Best Actress. At various points she plays a young noblewoman, a young noblewoman playing a man, a young noblewoman playing a man playing Romeo, and a young noblewoman playing a man playing Juliet. She more than showed her range in this film.

    • Hahah @ the suffering. That’s really true. This film might be a more lightweight but I think that it was made superbly and I can’t get over the screenplay. I’ve never really read one, but watching this made me really want to get my hands on a copy.

      Very true about Paltrow. I was expecting an undeserving performance based on how everyone likes to make fun of her win but she was amazing in this! She did well in each of her roles you mention.

      Yeah, I was expecting some comments saying I’m crazy for being cool with this beating Saving Private Ryan. I’m glad my first one was someone agreeing with me!

  2. Shakespeare in Love is, I believe, one of the best romantic comedies of the last two decades and it’s also smarter (and gives its audience more credit) than a number of more serious films. Glad you point out the ensemble which is one of its finest attributes.

    (I’m always sad that Fiennes missed out on that Oscar nomination, 1998 was such a fantastic year from him. He’s never been as good as he was in this or Elizabeth.)

    • Thanks for the comment! It really is smart and certainly one of the best romantic comedies I’ve seen in awhile.

      Was he a lead in Elizabeth? Maybe it was a case of split votes from the Academy so he lost a nom overall. Big shame.

      • He was going supporting for that (curiously with Geoffrey Rush who was ALSO in this). Maybe it’s the usual case of AMPAS being…umm…not very favourable towards romantic male leads (See Titanic, Moulin Rouge, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Woman of the Year and a hundred more films). Shame, though, seeing as how he’s so emphatically the main person in this.

        And silly enough, I always wonder – would a nomination have helped his career?

        • I have to think it would have. He had a great, but small, role in the second season of American Horror Story. Maybe he’ll get into a second wind in his career!

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