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.
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).
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 Film Editing
- 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